The ongoing Qatar crisis looks like it may bleed into the 2018 AFC Champions League’s group stages after several teams from the nation were yesterday drawn against rival clubs from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The latter-mentioned countries, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and the Maldives all summarily severed relations with the Doha government in June because of its alleged support for terrorism.
This has forced strain on relations between the nations at all levels, with further discord caused last week when the Asian Football Confederation rejected pleas to play potential matches between clubs from the opposing blocs at neutral venues.
After Wednesday’s ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, all four Emirati outfits could play Qatari opposition.
The guaranteed meetings are between President’s Cup holders Al Wahda and the merged Al Duhail in Group B, plus 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League runners-up Al Wasl against Xavi’s Al Sadd in Group C.
If they beat Bahrain’s Malkiya in January 30’s play-off, Al Ain will compete against Michael Laudrup’s Al Rayyan in Group D. AGL champions Al Jazira could run-out against Al Gharafa in Group A if they see off Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor.
Syrian striker Omar Khrbin was awarded the Asian Football Confederation’s 2017 Player of the Year Wednesday, after starring both for his club and for his war-ravaged country’s attempt to make the World Cup.
The award, at a glittering ceremony in Bangkok, goes some way to compensate for the disappointment endured by the 23-year-old over the weekend when his Al Hilal side narrowly lost 1-2 on aggregate to Japan’s Uwara Red Diamonds in the AFC Champions League final.
Australia’s Samantha Kerr claimed the women’s Player of the Year title in Bangkok, after tearing through defences for US-based Sky Blue FC and her national side.
Khrbin was selected ahead of last year’s winner, UAE superstar, Omar Abdulrahman, and Wu Lei, the skilful Chinese winger.
The Syrian national football team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after losing last month in agonising fashion by a single goal over two legs to Australia.
Yet is was an inspiring sporting journey for the team — and their top scorer — against the backdrop of Syria’s grinding six-year civil war.
Khrbin showed a knack for scoring key goals, both in his country’s qualification campaign and in Al Hilal’s run to the AFC Champions League Final.
He scored the equaliser for the Saudi outfit in the home leg with Urawa Red Diamonds, before they went down by a single goal in Japan.
In receiving the award, the 23-year-old thanked God and members of the national team.
“We apologise to all the fans because we did not achieve the greatest results but we promise them to keep trying our best,” he said.
The AFC award for the best international player — an Asian based outside the region — went to South Korean Son Heung-Min, who has become a fans’ favourite at Tottenham Hotspur.
KHRBIN’S STANDOUT YEAR:
Brazilian Rafael Silva snatched an early winner as Japan’s Urawa Reds beat star-studded Shanghai SIPG 1-0 at home on Wednesday to set up an Asian Champions League final against Saudi giants Al Hilal.
The Reds and Al Hilal will face off in next month’s two-leg final after a 2-1 aggregate win ended Japan’s miserable recent run in Asia’s premier club competition.
The winner of that final will feature in the FIFA Club World Cup this December in Abu Dhabi.
Silva pounced after just 11 minutes in Saitama when he met a Yosuke Kashiwagi corner to power a header past Shanghai goalkeeper Yan Junling for what proved to be the only goal of a fractious encounter.
Japanese clubs have struggled to make an impact in the competition since Urawa’s victory in 2007 and Gamba Osaka’s triumph a year later.
Although Shanghai largely dominated possession, with Brazil internationals Oscar and Hulk threatening in spells, the visitors lacked end product, allowing Urawa to complete a relatively untroubled victory.
Hulk, who tops the Champions League scoring charts with nine goals, brought a smart save from Reds keeper Shusaku Nishikawa with a dipping free kick after 24 minutes.
But the Reds could have added further goals in the second half as a Tomoaki Makino header clipped the bar and Shinzo Koroki saw a close-range effort brilliantly tipped over by Yan.
Another Hulk rocket 12 minutes from time forced a decent block from Nishikawa, who then reacted quickly to smother Elkeson’s follow-up.
But Shanghai’s performance had Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas ranting on the touchline a day after the former Chelsea boss turned 40.
“It was a great effort from the whole team to keep a clean sheet,” said Urawa captain Yuki Abe after the Reds ended 10 years of hurt in the ACL.
“We knew the first goal would be crucial but we came into the match with no fear and got the result. Hopefully we can do it again in the final.”
Al Hilal completed a 6-2 aggregate win over Iran’s Persepolis on Tuesday after scoring four unanswered goals in the first leg.