x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Al Ittihad's chance to step into spotlight

Now big-spending Bunyodkor and their coach Luiz Felipe Scolari are out of the Asian Champions League, maybe Al Ittihad will start to receive some of the attention they deserve.

Al Ittihad club players celebrate after winning against Pakhtakor.
Al Ittihad club players celebrate after winning against Pakhtakor.

Now big-spending Bunyodkor and their coach Luiz Felipe Scolari are out of the Asian Champions League, maybe Al Ittihad will start to receive some of the attention they deserve. The 2004 and 2005 continental champions breezed into the last four in ominous fashion by dispatching Uzbekistan's Pakhtakor 4-0 on the Jeddah night and 5-1 on aggregate. It was a great night for the Saudi Arabian champions against the Central Asian powerhouse as they built on a solid first-leg result to sweep their opponents aside with an impressive attacking display.

Sultan al Nemri opened the scoring just before the break and young Tunisian star Amine Chermiti sealed the semi-final spot 10 minutes after. There was still time for Moroccan striker Hicham Aboucherouane and captain Mohammed Noor to score and round off a perfect evening for Gabriel Calderon's men. "We had two good matches against Pakhtakor so I must congratulate my players who met their promises they made before the match," said the Argentine who led Saudi Arabia through qualification for the 2006 World Cup only to be fired before the tournament began.

"Pakhtakor played well and I think their technical performance in some way is similar to Barcelona." Next for the Saudi Arabians comes a semi-final against Nagoya Grampus of Japan. Unlike the West Asian giants, the Aichi team are enjoying their first season in the tournament though their passage to the last four was rather less smooth. With two minutes remaining of the tie against fellow J-Leaguers Kawasaki Frontale, the score was locked at 3-3, only for giant Australian striker Josh Kennedy to fire home a dramatic winner.

Coached by former Yugoslav legend Dragan Stojkovic, Nagoya play good football and, with the final to be held in Tokyo, will present a stern test. "Our next match in the semi- finals will be not easy," acknowledged Calderon. "We need to travel to Japan and we will face a strong team but since we accept no excuses I think we will secure the win and qualify to the final." sports@thenational.ae