x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Al Ittihad have Al Wahda's number once again

The elite Saudi side beat the Pro League champions 3-0 in Abu Dhabi to top Group C in the Asian Champions League

Al Wahda's Mohammed al Shehhi, left, and Al Ittihad's Mishal al Saeed fight for possession.
Al Wahda's Mohammed al Shehhi, left, and Al Ittihad's Mishal al Saeed fight for possession.

Al Wahda 0 // Al Ittihad 3

ABU DHABI // It is not as if Al Wahda have made a habit of defeating the elite Saudi side Al Ittihad. They were in the same Asian Champions League group a year ago and Ittihad won 4-0 at home and 2-0 at Al Nahyan Stadium.

Thus, a 3-0 Wahda defeat to the Saudi side last night was not unexpected; Ittihad have nine points after three matches in this year's ACL competition, and will win Group C barring a shocking collapse.

The consolation for the Abu Dhabi club is that they are level with Bunyodkor and Persepolis on two points and still can aspire to finish second and advance from the group phase, which no UAE side have done since 2007.

Wahda brought great energy to their early efforts, which yielded chances but no goals, perhaps to be expected with top scorer Fernando Baiano on the bench for the first 45 minutes, presumably to keep him fresh for the President's Cup final with Al Jazira on Monday.

However, that lack of a finishing touch proved fatal against an Ittihad side that generated few chances before the break but clinically converted two of them.

It spoke to the cool professionalism of the Saudi side that they seemed to allow Wahda to press themselves to exhaustion, secure in the knowledge they were unlikely to concede and could come forward at their leisure.

Wahda's best early chance came in the opening minutes when Magrao's point-blank header from Hugo's corner banged off the left post in the opening minutes of the match.

The home side might have had more good chances had Mohammed al Shehhi, pushed up in the attack with Baiano on the bench, been able to do more with the excellent service he received. Instead, he had trouble trapping or redirecting the ball at speed, and attacks petered out at his feet.

The zeal went out of Wahda's attack and much of the air seemed to be let out of Al Nahyan Stadium when Ittihad scored on a counter-attack in the 32nd minute.

Paulo Jorge, the Portuguese winger, took the ball to the by-line, stepped past Wahda's young midfielder Khalid Jalal and rolled a soft pass just above the penalty area to the Algerian forward Abdelmalik Ziaya, who calmly tapped the ball home.

Ittihad's second goal was just as sudden. Seconds before the break, a pass into the box was headed down by Bashir Saeed, but right into the path of Manaf Aboshgair, who stepped into the ball about 20 yards out and rifled it into the upper corner of the net.

Ittihad's final goal sent fans streaming for the exits. Jorge's 87th-minute corner deflected off the head of Hugo and off the hands of the goalkeeper Adel al Hosani and into the net.

"My team made a good and promising start to the game, and we had good chances to score first," said Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach.

"We were a little bit unlucky when Magrao hit the post with his header, and some shots were blocked. But then we made the first mistakes and Ittihad scored first, and after that the game changed and Ittihad controlled the match.

"They didn’t look nervous like in the beginning, and the second goal just before half-time killed us."

Wahda have a return ACL engagement with Ittihad in Jeddah on April 20, but their thoughts now must certainly be on the President's Cup final.

Hickersberger said he has cancelled an off day today and will have his players report to the training ground.

"It is not punishment," he said. "I don't believe in that. I want to see my players and talk to them about what happened and start our preparation for the Cup final.

"I can’t close my eyes and it makes no sense to give them one day off. They will stay in town and think too much about why we lost and how we lost.

"i want to get control as soon as possible and I want to talk to the players about what happened, from my point of view, and what we have to do better in the next match on Monday."