x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Spirited Al Ahli make a point

Ivan Hasek's Al Ahli are relieved to return with a point, their first of the campaign, from the Asian Champions League match against Saba Battery.

Saba Battery's Mehdi Kheiri, right, competes with Al Ahli's Khaled Mohamed during the goalless draw in Iran.
Saba Battery's Mehdi Kheiri, right, competes with Al Ahli's Khaled Mohamed during the goalless draw in Iran.

Ivan Hasek's Al Ahli were relieved to return with a point, their first of the campaign, from the Asian Champions League Group A match against Saba Battery at the Yadegar-e-Emam Stadium on Tuesday night. Having gone down to the Uzbek club Pakhtakor in the opening game of the tournament, a point from the away game was a major boost for the Dubai club, who dethroned the long-time leaders Al Jazira in the Pro League table last week.

"It was a big improvement from the first match at home from a result's point and that's what we required from this away game," said Ahli captain Mohammed Qasim. "This point was important for us because it also keeps Saba Battery from running up a lead." Ahli endured a tough first half, particularly towards the end, and were at full stretch for large parts as they tried to prevent the home side from scoring.

But they returned after the break a more confident team, and created a few chances of their own. The veteran defender Qasim admitted they were nervous at the start. "They unsettled us from the onset and we were lucky to go into the break without conceding a goal," he said. "We had a chat with the coach and returned with more confidence and played better. I felt we could have even scored, but we are happy to return with a point."

It was the second time in a row the Iranian club had to share the points - they drew 1-1 with Al Hilal last time out - and they would have rued their missed opportunities. Saba Battery began on the offensive and Gholamreza Rezaei was just wide with a header in the opening minutes, with the goalkeeper Obaid al Taweela out of position. Rezai looked the player most likely to break the deadlock and later on, he saw one of his shots from the right flank crash against the post on the stroke of half-time.

Qasim, the Ahli defender, almost hooked the ball into his own net with a clearance from the goalmouth a minute earlier as the visitors survived a first-half onslaught. The Iranian Milad Meidavoudi spearhaded a much-improved Ahli attacking performance in the second half and he went close with an effort from the edge box. Midway through the second half, Ahmed Khalil failed to connect with a loose ball when just a few yards out after the Cesar's cross was fumbled by the Saba goalkeeper, Almir Tolja.

The Egyptian Hosni Abd Rabo and Bare, the Brazilian, made a few breaks for the visitors, and they were wide with a couple of attempts. Ahli seemed content to play out the rest of the game for the draw and the home side just didn't raise their game to create any more chances as the game petered out rather tamely. apassela@thenational.ae