Al Shabab revived their hopes of reaching the Asian Champions League knockout phase by fighting back from a goal down against Lekhwiya. Ahmed Rizvi reports.
Asian Champions League: Selections pay off for Marcos Paqueta and Al Shabab
Al Shabab 3 Lekhiwaya 1
Al Shabab Obaid 46', Ciel 76', Bruno 90'+3
Lekhwiya Msakni 37’
Red card Sebastian Soria (Lekhwiya)
DUBAI // Marcos Paqueta saluted the spirit of his team Wednesday night after Al Shabab fought back from a goal down to beat Lekhwiya 3-1 to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the second round.
The win takes Shabab's tally in the group to six points and a victory over Pakhtakor on Tuesday in Uzbekistan could see them through to the round of 16, if other results go in their favour.
Lekhwiya, who have eight points, will host Al Ittifaq in the final round of Group B matches, but they will be missing the services of their striker Sebastian Soria, who received a red card Wednesday night in the 85th minute for retaliating against Ibrahim Abdullah.
"We gave a chance to many players who were away from the team because of injuries and technical reasons," Paqueta said. "The team that played today has not trained together for a long time and that was clear in the first half.
"During the break, we had a talk and managed to reorganise our game in the second half. So I am glad that these players showed a good level. We played within our limitations. We were humble because we know our limits. We tried to defend and play to our strengths. Lekhwiya have 11 professional players. They are a big team, not a small team. So I am really pleased with this result."
Taking a cue from Walter Zenga, who started an all-Emirati XI on Tuesday night against the Iranian champions Sepahan, Paqueta did the same. Ciel and Edgar Bruno were on the bench, while Azizbek Haydarov was given the night off. Shabab's fourth foreigner, Luiz Henrique, was out suspended.
Even Walid Abbas, Shabab's lone international in recent times, was kept on the bench. The players on the pitch, however, did not disappoint their coach, defending stoutly till Youssef Msakni broke through in the 37th minute. Drawing the Shabab defenders and goalkeeper wide, the Tunisia international finished with a crisp shot to the far corner.
About 20 seconds into the second half, Shabab levelled the scores when Essa Obaid made a deft turn past the defenders and put a low shot to the far corner.
Buoyed by the goal, Shabab shifted gears and gave the Lekhwiya defence a rough time. They should have added to their tally, but lacked the final touch and some luck.
Ciel's arrival on the pitch in the 65th minute, followed by Bruno's entry five minutes later, added to Shabab's firepower and the hosts took the lead in the 76th minute when Rashed Hassan flicked the ball past the Lekhwiya keeper for Ciel to tap home. Bruno made it 3-1 in the third minute of added time, booting home Nasser Masood's cross.
"After 45 minutes, it looked really good for us," said Eric Gerets, the Lekhwiya coach. "In the second half, I don't know what happened. All things you can do wrong in 45 minutes, we did them. We lost the game because we were stupid. We made very big individual mistakes. So they deserved to win and we deserved to lose."
Man of the match Rashed Hassan (Al Shabab)
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