x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ibrahim goes close but not near enough

Goal-shy Al Jazira have only themselves to blame for not taking all three points from their Asian Champions League clash.

Rafael Sobis goes flying as he closes in on the Al Ittihad goal.
Rafael Sobis goes flying as he closes in on the Al Ittihad goal.

ABU DHABI // Goal-shy Al Jazira have only themselves to blame for not taking all three points from their Asian Champions League clash. Abel Braga's team were held to a scoreless draw by the Saudi league leaders Al Ittihad at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday. Braga and his men have every reason to be disappointed with the result after they dominated for most of the game and created all the scoring opportunities, including one Diaky Ibrahim effort that crashed against a post 11 minutes from time.

The Brazilian pair Fernando Baiano and Rafael Sobis also had chances, but failed to beat the outstanding Ittihad goalkeeper Mabrouk Zaid. Braga's disappointment was understandable but the Brazilian hailed his team's performance, saying: "We were not lucky on the night. "This performance was by far the best in more than a month. I am happy with that but not the result." Braga's side went down to Umm Salal in the opening round of the Champions League but the Qatari club who were supposedly the minnows in the group proved those predictions wrong with a 1-0 home victory over the Iranian club Esteghlal.

Ittihad top the group on seven points at the half-way stage of the group phase with Umm Salal a point behind in second. Jazira remain on two, with Esteghlal at the bottom. Braga added: "It is hard for me to say what our chances of qualifying are. We still have three games and anything is possible. But for me, the important thing was the positives that came out of this game, which we can take forward, particularly with the Pro League resuming this week."

Jazira face Al Shaab on Sunday and Braga he feels his players can take the confidence they gained from the ACL into the league, where they hope to regain top spot from Al Ahli. For the Ittihad coach Gabriel Calderon, the result was a good one. "We knew we had to defend strongly and we did," he said. "We are fortunate to return with a point and this is a good result for me as I had to deal with a lot of tired players and preserve some of them for Sunday's deciding Saudi league match with Al Hilal."

Ittihad need only a draw with Hilal to win the domestic league and, with that in mind, Calderon left five of his players out of the line-up against Jazira. "With Sunday's game in mind, I thought this could prove very important for us," he said. Meanwhile, Iranian league champions Piroozi recorded an emphatic 3-1 win over Al Gharafa of Qatar in Group B in Tehran yesterday. Mezyar Zare's 36th-minute penalty set the home side on their way before Senegalese striker Ibrahim Toure extended the lead in first-half stoppage time.

Alireza Vahedi Nikbakht added the third after the break before Fernandao's 69th-minute free-kick provided the visitors with some consolation after they suffered their second defeat of the competition. The Brazilian forward Leandro scored two first-half goals as Gamba Osaka cruised past Sriwijaya of Indonesia 5-0 in a Group F game at Expo 70 Commemoration Park. And Japan's Kawasaki Frontale maintained their lead at the top of Group H after crushing Australia's Central Coast Mariners also 5-0 in a one-sided match at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford.

apassela@thenational.ae