Nasser Masood's goal at the 80th minute lifted Al Shabab missing the likes of Ciel, Edgar Bruno and Luiz Henrique to an unlikely Asian Champions League Group B win, writes John McAuley.
Asian Champions League: Resting big names pays off for Al Shabab with win over Al Ittifaq
Al Shabab 1 Al Ittifaq 0
Al Shabab Masood 80’
DUBAI // For a match supposedly bearing great significance it offered little in the way of significant action. In truth, a glance at the Al Shabab team sheet should have sounded the alarm.
Granted, this was the third fixture in a seemingly forlorn Asian Champions League campaign for the Dubai club, a quest made almost impossible by successive Group B defeats.
And yes, Shabab have other commitments domestically, chiefly a President's Cup semi-final next month that already occupies thoughts.
But an encounter against Al Ittifaq, the struggling Saudi Arabian side, at their own Maktoum bin Rashid Stadium provided Marcos Paqueta's men the opportunity to breathe life back into their continental crusade.
The coach, though, chose to omit from his starting line-up three of his brightest lights: Ciel, Edgar Bruno and Luiz Henrique.
The latter two, in fact, could barely keep an eye on proceedings from the stands, instead fiddling frequently with their smart phones.
Perhaps they knew Shabab's number was up.
That certainly appeared the case until the 80th minute when Nasser Masood gathered a clever reverse ball from Rashid Hassan, one of Shabab's less experienced midfielders, and drilled his left-footed shot low past Faiz Al Subaiei, the Ittifaq goalkeeper, via the near post.
As a result Shabab leapfrog their opponents into third, and have second-placed Pakhtakor, losers last Wednesday night to Lekhwiya, again within reach.
"It's going to be difficult, let's be realistic, because we play under the pressure of many games," said Paqueta when quizzed on his side's chances of progression.
"But this was a good game for us because we got the result and put some new faces into the team, who all performed at a high level.
"Our strategy was to give rest to those that have played a lot and also to give chances to new players. So we're happy our strategy worked and we won."
While the manager was right to delight in a successfully hatched game plan, it seemed for long periods that his reconstructed side sought simply to conserve energy for future undertakings. The hosts huffed and puffed with nothing but a couple of speculative efforts to show for their endeavour.
The most audacious arrived from the boot of Sanad Ali, a striker with 10 goals in 14 matches this season. That they came in the Reserve League suggested, as he contorted his body mid-air, that his first-half overhead kick would not trouble Al Subaiei. It bounced well wide.
However, Al Subaiei was called into action after the break by snapshots from Azizbek Haydarov and Ibrahim Qambar, although neither should really have caused concern.
The deadlock did ensure Yousef Alsalam's saved effort on 70 minutes would have been particularly irritating for the visitors, the Ittifaq frontman firing his close-range shot directly at Salem Abdulla when space existed either side of the Shabab goalkeeper.
Maciej Skorza, the Ittifaq coach, summed it up post-match when he noted: "It was a very hard game, with not too many clear chances. We had one really good opportunity and Shabab had one, but we missed ours."
Man of the match
Nasser Masood (Al Shabab)
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