Nicolas Anelka helped Mumbai City narrowly escape with a 1-0 win against Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League on Sunday with a marvelous set-piece.
Football is a cruel game. You can dominate in almost every way but it’s all about finding the back of the net. Don’t do that and you lose. On another night, perhaps most nights, Al Hilal would have beaten Western Sydney Wanderers and taken the Asian Champions League title. Yet, the Australian team got the goal in the first leg and gave everything to protect it.
In Riyadh, the Blue Wave threw everything at the men in red and black but could not find a way past the inspired Ante Covic in goal. And then there was Yuichi Nishimura. The official was taking charge of his first high-profile game since the World Cup opener when he was criticised for giving hosts Brazil a soft penalty. He may have a case of deja vu right about now but that sense will have been stronger among the 65,000 fans packed in the King Fahd Stadium as he turned down penalty appeal after penalty appeal. Four big ones were made, three should have been approved.
The Japanese referee has seen his reputation suffer in this final and it is going to take time to recover, if it ever does. The same can be said of some others too.
As well as cruel, football can be ugly. And there were shades of that on Saturday night. The Asian Champions League final is a big game, there’s none bigger on this giant continent. Al Hilal were desperate to win. There’s nothing wrong with that – the big clubs crave the big prizes – but it doesn’t excuse some of the behaviour on show.
It doesn’t excuse the laser beams being pointed in the eyes of the opposition. This has been going on for years in Asia and is especially common over in the west for the big games. The AFC has to do something. It is time to stamp out such unsportsmanlike actions. This is supposed to be a game.
And it certainly does not excuse Nassir Al Shamrani, who should also be punished. The striker has been one of the best in Asia over the years. It is sad that outside his homeland, he has not received the international recognition he deserved. He was poor in the final. In a half-hour of action, Yasser Al Qahtani carried more danger than Al Shamrani managed in the entire 180 minutes.
It is also sad that his newly-forged international reputation is negative. He will remembered outside his homeland not for scoring goals but for headbutting and then spitting at Matthew Spiranovic. The former is bad enough but at least you could argue that in the red-hot final moments of a final that you are losing, when the referee is giving you nothing then you can lose your head and use it in ways that you should not. Even the great Zinedine Zidane has been guilty of that. If the referee had seen it then he would have sent the player off, though with the official in such form, it is hard to say for sure.
— Yahoo Sports ME (@YahooSportsME) November 3, 2014
But worse was to follow. All have surely seen Al Shamrani spitting at the same Wanderer after the game. It almost caused a mass brawl at the very moment when the world’s biggest continent should have been celebrating its new champion. It was only due to the presence of some cooler heads, on both sides, that instead of the trophy ceremony, the watching world was not treated to a free for all.
Even so, the pictures of the phlegm and the fight were beamed far and wide and for some, will be the abiding image of the final. Saudi and Asian football deserves more. Passion and desire for glory are necessary. It is also understandable that given the defensive way the Wanderers play – and their skill at that game – and the decisions of the referee, that there was huge frustration in the stadium. This is the biggest game in the biggest continent in the world, nobody expects a shrug of the shoulders when the trophy is within touching distance. Yet what Al Shamrani did was unacceptable.
— WS Wanderers FC (@wswanderersfc) November 2, 2014
Punishment should come his way but there is a chance at redemption. ‘The Earthquake’shocked with his actions but will be heading to the Asian Cup in January, the best chance this soon-to-be 31 year-old is likely to have to show the world what he can do with his feet. It won’t be easy for him to convince a skeptical Australian public that he is one of the continent’s top strikers but at least he will get a chance to do so.
And Al Hilal will get more chances too. The history and traditions of this giant club demand no less than more occasions like this. This is a winning machine with a trophy cabinet that few around the world can match but while the Blue Wave know how to win, players like Al Shamrani have to know how to lose. It can be cruel but this is football.
Sergio Aguero scored the only goal of the game as Manchester City beat United in the derby.
Louis van Gaal – already fielding Antonio Valencia as a makeshift right-back – saw Chris Smalling sent off after the centre-back picked up two yellow cards in the first half, and Marcos Rojo later had to be stretchered off.
City duly punished United’s makeshift defence when Aguero scored his 12th goal of the season to hand City a 1-0 victory over their bitter rivals.
England defender Smalling had earned his first booking on the half-hour for blocking Joe Hart’s attempted clearance from point-blank range, and less than 10 minutes later he was shown yellow again for a reckless foul on James Milner.
JUST IN: Pictures of Man Utd fans outside the Etihad stadium waiting to catch a glimpse of Chris Smalling pic.twitter.com/uGDzqwaAWH
— Joe Morrison (@joefooty) November 2, 2014
The victory means City have now won four Manchester derbies on the bounce – something that had not been achieved for 44 years.
It had been suggested before the match that City’s recent poor form meant they no longer enjoyed the supremacy over United that they had enjoyed since Sheikh Mansour started pouring cash into the club in 2008, but this result, which puts City seven points ahead of their cross-city rivals, suggests otherwise.
City failed to show the same killer instinct that Chelsea have shown for most of the year, but they probably should have had at least one penalty.
Michael Oliver waved away shouts for fouls on Yaya Toure, Aguero and a handball by Daley Blind, among others.
The result means Manuel Pellegrini’s three-match winless streak has now come to an end and his side are within two victories of the Premier League leaders with over a quarter of the season gone.
Van Gaal never looked like winning his first Manchester derby once Smalling was sent off and his team lacked a cutting edge up front despite the return of Wayne Rooney.
The United boss’ lack of options at the back was clear throughout. He ended the match with Michael Carrick and Paddy McNair at centre-back after Rojo was carried off on a stretcher with what looked like a serious shoulder injury.
Van Gaal did his best to fan the flames ahead of the match by insisting the club remained the biggest club in Manchester despite City’s recent success, and the bitter rivalry between the two clubs was evident from the heated atmosphere inside the stadium.
Van Gaal wanted his team to quieten the home fans with an early strike, but they barely got a sniff of goal in the first 20 minutes.
Despite the prematch hype and bubbling atmosphere, the first quarter turned out to be something of an anti-climax. City were made to chase United, who had the majority of possession but did not do anything with it.
Pellegrini barked orders at the edge of his area, clearly concerned with his team’s performance. The hosts responded with a threatening blitz on the United goal.
Aguero accelerated towards goal, only to be chopped down by Rojo. The City striker got the better of his international teammate moments later but David de Gea saved well.
De Gea then denied Jesus Navas from close range and moments later he made a brave save to deny Aguero.
United were under the cosh. Blind desperately hacked down Toure to prevent the midfielder from unleashing a shot on goal.
The Dutchman went into the referee’s book and Smalling soon followed him for stopping Hart booting the ball from his hands — an act seen more on school playgrounds than in top-flight matches.
Hart somehow avoided sanction even though he appeared to nudge his head towards Oliver’s.
Then came a moment of pure madness from Smalling. Eight minutes after his first booking, the England defender wiped out Milner with a sliding tackle and he received a second yellow.
Smalling trudged off the pitch, and Van Gaal could barely look at the former Fulham man after the error. The Dutchman brought Carrick on to play at centre-half and Adnan Januzaj made way.
City sensed blood and went in for the kill. They were unlucky not to go in at the break ahead. Oliver waved play on even though Marouane Fellaini knocked Aguero over and the referee waved away City’s protests in injury time when Rojo kicked Toure in the box.
— Vincent Kompany (@VincentKompany) November 2, 2014
After the break, it was much the same story as City had three more penalty shouts rejected. The hosts launched wave after wave of attack and United were struggling to cope.
United’s troubles then deepened when Rojo was carried off on a stretcher after a rash sliding tackle.
With Carrick and teenage defender McNair now operating at centre-half for United, it seemed inevitable City would score. That moment arrived just after the hour. Di Maria failed to cut out a pass from Toure to Gael Clichy and he squared for Aguero, who tapped in from close range.
United briefly came back in to the game. Robin van Persie tested Joe Hart from close range and the England goalkeeper had to be alert to deny Fellaini, who had slipped into the box after a superb ball from Angel Di Maria.
But City, thanks to their numerical superiority, remained very much in charge. De Gea pulled off another top save to deny Stevan Jovetic and Navas struck the woodwork.
All of a sudden, the nerves started to kick in for City — Di Maria blasted a low shot just wide before Fellaini somehow headed wide from eight yards when he was unmarked — but the hosts soon seized control to see out the win.