x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Asian Champions League: Leonardo Lima dismissal costs Al Nasr against Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia

Al Nasr cannot overcome being a man down as captain and playmaker Leonardo Lima's dismissal on a straight red card for stomping on an Al Ahli Jeddah player dooms their Asian Champions League match.

Al Nasr's Takayuki Morimoto, left, goes up for a header against Jairo Palomino of Al Ahli Saudi Arabia.
Al Nasr's Takayuki Morimoto, left, goes up for a header against Jairo Palomino of Al Ahli Saudi Arabia.

DUBAI // Back in January, when Bruno Cesar made the surprise switch from Portuguese giants Benfica to Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia, trading the arclights of European football for the security of a better paycheque, the Brazilian emphasised he was no "mercenary".

"It is a very good contract," the 24-year-old South American said in January. "It will provide me and my family with great financial stability.

"There are two sides to the coin. It will be a much more tranquil life financially, but sports-wise it will distance me from my objectives which are the national team, playing in Europe and the [European] Champions League, and being among the best clubs in the world."

Two months later, it would be interesting to know if Cesar still thinks he made the right decision. Is life in Jeddah as cushy as he had imagined? And more importantly, what does he think of the Asian version of the Champions League?

Of course, there can be no comparison between the Asian and European continental championship. Cesar probably would not have seen many empty seats in the stands when he turned out for the Portuguese powerhouses in the Uefa Champions League last season; there were plenty at Al Nasr on Wednesday night.

That, however, did not seem to bother Cesar too much as he bossed the midfield. An early tussle with Nasr's Japanese striker Takayuki Morimoto in the opening minutes got him going.

Cesar's namesake in the Nasr team, Bruno Cesar Correa, almost opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a header that required a desperate leap from the Ahli goalkeeper Abdullah Al Muaiouf. From the resulting corner, Morimoto blasted the ball into the goal to give the hosts an early lead.

Nasr's advantage, however, lasted only four minutes as Amad Al Hosni struck the equaliser four minutes later. The Omani veteran took advantage of a mix-up in the Nasr defence to sneak in at the far corner and score.

Morimoto then had a chance to put his team back in the lead in the 30th minute as Correa made a dash from the halfway line, but the Japanese forward slipped as he took aim at the Brazilian's cross.

The game, however, changed a minute later when Nasr lost their captain and most influential player Leonardo Lima. The Brazilian was shown a straight red card by the referee for a deliberate stamp on Jairo Palomino.

The visitors took immediate advantage of their numerical superiority when Al Hosni headed home his second of the night on 36 minutes. Habib Fardan came close to restoring parity before the break, but the Ahli goalkeeper showed good reflexes to keep out the UAE international's header off a corner.

Coming out after the break, Nasr continued to show positive intent, but Ahli had control of the game and could have got a third in the 54th minute, but some good footwork by the home goalkeeper Ahmed Shambih denied Al Hosni.

There were few other opportunities for either side in the remaining minutes of the game as Ahli shunned adventure in favour of possession. Nasr tried, but having played for almost an hour with 10 men, they inevitably ran out of gas.

The win takes Ahli's tally in Group C to six points with two wins from two, while Nasr are yet to open their account and are bottom.

They looked good to get one, if not three, last night, but Lima's imprudence cost them dear.

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

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