x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Al Ittihad advance to ACL final

The Saudi giants beat the Japanese club Nagoya Grampus 2-1 in their second leg match and advance 8-3 on aggregate.

The Al Ittihad forward Amine Chermiti, centre, celebrates his goal with teammate Mohammed Noor as the Saudi side booked their place in this year's Asian Champions League final.
The Al Ittihad forward Amine Chermiti, centre, celebrates his goal with teammate Mohammed Noor as the Saudi side booked their place in this year's Asian Champions League final.

Al Ittihad are on course for their third Asian Champions League triumph in six years after defeating Nagoya Grampus in the semi-final in the most emphatic of fashions. The Japanese team, looking to overturn a 6-2 thrashing served up in Saudi Arabia a week previously, battled bravely, but were beaten 2-1 in yesterday's second leg. The 8-3 aggregate victory is the highest winning margin in a semi-final since Ittihad thrashed Busan I'Park of South Korea 7-0 over two legs in 2005. It was a night of few surprises and it was hardly a shock when Nagoya threw themselves at their opponents from the start of the match at the Mizuno Athletics Stadium. It was not a surprise how a well-organised Al Ittihad coped with the pressure without too many alarms. It was expected that the team from Jeddah would hit their hosts on the counter-attack. And ultimately, only the wildest Japanese optimist predicted anything other than the West Asians in the final. "I am proud of my players," said Al Ittihad coach Gabriel Calderon. "We did what we had to do and did it very well against a good team." The Argentine added: "There is no time to celebrate however. We must now start preparing for the final. There is still work to do." Ittihad defended well, especially against the aerial threat of the giant Australian Josh Kennedy. The Nagoya striker hit the bar in the first half and enjoyed a couple of chances early after the restart, but the J-League team struggled to break down Al Ittihad. Frustration turned to resignation just before half-time. Saleh al Saqri scored from close range after Toru Hasegawa saved Mohammed Noor's flicked backheel. Nagoya's coach Dragan Stojkovic admitted: "Al Ittihad were the better team. Unfortunately we lost, but in football you have to create a chance to score. We didn't score enough, we didn't take our chances, and after the mistakes, we lost the game. "But I'm very satisfied with the behaviour of my players. To be in the best four, it's really a good result, and the semi-finals, we lost in the first leg, not today. We lost in Jeddah 6-2." The second leg was lost on the hour. A floated free-kick from the impressive Mohammed Noor, scorer of a first-leg hat-trick, was headed home by Tunisian striker Amine Chermiti. That still wasn't enough to silence the home fans, relentless in their support for Nagoya. The massed red ranks were finally rewarded after 67 minutes when Keita Sugimoto scored what was perhaps the best goal of the entire tournament. The diminutive substitute controlled a free-kick on his chest and then performed an acrobatic overhead kick that gave Mabrouk Zaid in the Saudi goal no chance. By that time, Al Ittihad's thoughts were already starting to turn to Tokyo and a record third Asian title.

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