RIYADH: Al-Ahli’s hopes of reaching the quarter-final of the 2018 AFC Champions League are still intact after Mohanned Aseri’s second-half header gave the Saudi Arabians a 2-1 loss at Al-Sadd in the first leg of their second round clash in Qatar.
Ater two first-half goals from Boualem Khoukhi had put Al-Sadd in control of the tie in Doha, Aseri hit back early in the second-half to give the Jeddah club an away goal and hope for the second leg.
While it was no more than the visitors, aggressive and probing going forward, deserved, they had a nightmare start and were behind after just three minutes.
Former Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez had gone down under a challenge from Motaz Hawsawi inside a crowded area and had barely finished appealing when he received a pass at the age of the box from the advancing Khoukhi. The Spaniard threaded the ball through the defense for the Algeria-born forward to slot past Mohammed Al-Awais from close range.
Just four minutes later, Xavi was forcing the goalkeeper into another save and when Hasan Al-Haydos ad Al-Awais diving low to his left after ten minutes, the Saudi visitors were well and truly under the cosh.
After the initial shock however, Al-Ahli started to play their way back into the game. and a fine passing move midway through the half ended with Abdulafttah Asiri dragging his left-footed shot just wide on the right side.
Moments later, Mansour Al-Harbi, starting on the left side, danced through the home defense and then picking up the loose ball inside the area, shot past Saad Al Sheeb only for Ahmed Suhail to clear off the line.
The intervention may well be a turning point in the tie as just before the half-hour Al-Sadd broke to extend their lead. A perfect cross was delivered from the right by Baghdad Bounedjah and Khoukhi climed above Amiri Kurdi inside the area to send a towering header into the back of the net.
Al-Ahli’s efforts were finally rewarded early in the second half as Aseri, Mohannad Aseri, who had gone close with an earlier header, rose at the far post to head Kurdi’s cross past the despairing goalkeeper.
The Saudis continued to look more incisive. Substitute Saleh Al-Amri, busy on the left side of attack, saw three attempts well-saved by Al-Sheeb in the Al-Sadd goal.
With five minutes remaining however, Al Sadd almost snatched a third. A long ball over the top released Bounedjah and the tournament’s leading goalscorer shot fiercely toward the bottom corner. Al Awais produced a top-class save, somehow getting a hand to the ball. He was in action again in injury time to deny Akram Afif.
To concede a third would have been cruel for Al Ahli who deserved more from the game. The result may mark a first defeat for the Saudi team in this year’s tournament but a similar performance in the second leg and fans in Jeddah will be confident of turning the tie around.
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