Al Hilal advanced to the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League for the second season in a row after Georgios Donis’ side were held to a 2-2 draw by Qatar’s Lekhwiya in the second leg of their quarter-final encounter at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium.
The result meant Al Hilal secured a 6-3 aggregate win over the Qatar Stars League champions and will meet either the UAE’s Al Ahli or Naft Tehran from Iran in the semi-finals later this month.
Carlos Eduardo increased Al Hilal’s advantage in the 25th minute, slotting the ball past Amine Lecomte with a composed finish into the corner.
But goals from Ismail Mohammed and Chico Flores gave Lekhwiya a glimmer of hope before the Saudi Arabian side closed out the game through Digao three minutes from time.
Meanwhile, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Guangzhou Evergrande scrapped their way into the semi-finals as they fought out a bad-tempered 1-1 draw for a 4-2 aggregate win over Kashiwa Reysol.
Huang Bowen’s sumptuous first-half equaliser provided a rare moment of quality at Tianhe Stadium with the second period more notable for robust challenges and yellow cards.
Chelsea-linked defender Zhang Linpeng was lucky to stay on the pitch after he went in two-footed on Ryosuke Yamanaka, and Feng Xiaoting and Kim Young-Gwon also saw yellow.
Scolari, who arrived in June, will be keen to secure the wealthy Chinese club’s second Asian title just a year after his World Cup flop on home soil with his native Brazil.
The no-nonsense coach earned a reputation for his uncompromising style after a series of pitchside bust-ups while coaching league football in his home country.
It showed a different side to Guangzhou, usually better known for the sort of free-flowing attack which earned them a 3-1 win in Kashiwa in last month’s first leg.
They will now play the winners of tonight’s second leg between Gamba Osaka or Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, a tie delicately poised at 0-0 from the first leg in South Korea.
Gamba will be without suspended leading scorer Takashi Usami and injured midfielder Kotaro Omori for the match. But with a seven-game unbeaten run in the competition, coach Kenta Hasegawa was confident about progression.
“The most important factor to winning against Jeonbuk is two-fold,” the 49-year-old former Japan winger said, who led Gamba to the domestic treble last season after his appointment in 2013 following their relegation from the J League.
“The first, and most important thing, is to have a stronger will to win than our opponents, the second is to play our Gamba style of football.
“We have to believe in ourselves that we can do it. We have to win this match to get into the next round.
“Despite our absences, we just have to pull all the players available together and score the goals that will help get the win. Jeonbuk have good physical strength and they take advantage of that.
“It’s going to be a tough match, but we have to ensure we play our style of football, it all comes down to that.”
Royston Drenthe has warned Arabian Gulf League full-backs they are in for a torrid time after being unveiled by new club Bani Yas.
The 28-year-old free agent signed for the Sky Blues, completing their four-man foreign quota for the season and could make his debut from the bench at Fujairah on Friday.
Drenthe was Player of the Tournament as the Netherlands won the European Under-21 Championship in 2007 and has played for La Liga giants Real Madrid as well as Premiership outfit Everton in his nomadic career.
Since a patchy loan move to Goodison Park his fortunes have dipped with short-lived spells in Russia, the English Championship and Turkey. But he insists he is ready to make a big impact in the UAE – particularly if deployed in his favoured left-wing position.
“The manager decides where I will be playing but basically I’m a winger and that’s the reason why I’m here as well,” said Drenthe at the Bani Yas Stadium last night.
“My favourite position is on the wing and if you want to have 120 per cent from Royston Drenthe then you have to put me on the wing and that’s where I can perform to the best of my ability most of the time.
“I want to win everything and that’s always been my spirit. I have played 10 years of professional football and came to play and win things.
"I want to thank the manager for having the confidence in me to play and the only thing I have to do is work hard in training and games that I can perform and happy to be here and will give everything to Bani Yas.”
The 28-year-old admits he knows little about football in the UAE, but says it was an easy decision to pursue a new chapter in the AGL.
A great deal of that is because of Bani Yas’ former Levante and Getafe boss Luis Garcia, who Drenthe recalls from his days in La Liga.
“My agent said that it would be a good thing to come here because it’s new life and a good way to demonstrate your quality. It was a good decision and when I spoke to the manager, he gave me a good feeling and it was not a difficult decision.
“Both of us can speak Spanish so the communication is really good. But when I signed for Real Madrid in 2007, my coach was a managing in the Spanish leagues but that was not my reason why I came here.
“He gave me a lot of confidence and was really straight with me. I love that and I am only looking to the future right now and I want to give this man 130 per cent.”
Drenthe, who has been handed the Al Samawi No7 shirt, added: “I could have chosen No8 because that was the number when Netherlands won the Under-21 European Championships, but I wanted to have a number which I never had before. Hopefully with No7, I can perform like Cristiano Ronaldo.”
Al Ahli will be carrying the hopes of a nation when they bid to make the AFC Champions League semi-finals at Naft Tehran’s expense, according to boss Cosmin Olaroiu.
The Red Knights hold a slender 1-0 advantage from the first leg in Iran, earned by an excellent header from predatory new striker Lima.
Partisan ties have been cast aside across the UAE, the country coming out in force to cheer Ahli on as they look to continue their club-first run into the knockout stages. Coach Cosmin Olaroiu urged his troops to not waste all this good will at Ras-hid Stadium.
He said: “We have 90 minutes ahead of us. We only look at this game, we do not think ahead.
“We have 90 minutes to make something very big for the country and the club. I hope the players will understand they have the responsibility of a million people and the hearts of a million people and they will play in this way.”
Ahli have already seen off rivals Al Ain on their way to the meeting against Naft, who finished third in the 2014/15 Persian Gulf Pro League. But the Black Cats have endured an awful domestic start to this campaign, currently sitting second bottom after recording three defeats and one draw.
This is in stark contrast to the hosts, who began the Arabian Gulf League with an 8-1 thrashing of
Alireza Mansourian’s men will need to score in Dubai to stand any chance of progression against opponents who hold a valuable away goal, Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal awaiting the victors in the last four.
“We should not think about the result of the first game – it is a new game,” Olaroiu said. “Naft showed in the first game they are a strong team, with experienced players.
“We have to take into consideration we start from 0-0. We have to play to win this game.
“For me, 1-0 is a difficult result. If we think only to defend our advantage, it is not the best idea.
“I hope we find the right motivation and determination to keep our concetration levels from the first game. We didn’t concede many things then.
“This is most important for this kind of game. I hope I have the squad to advance.
“It will not be easy, I expect it will be more difficult than the first game. I am sure everyone will give their all to qualify for the next round.”
Ahli welcome back controversial goalkeeper Majed Nasser after his six-match ACL suspension ended.
The only player to miss out through injury is long-term absentee Essa Santo, while €17 million (Dh70m) record buy Moussa Sow was signed too late to be eligible.
The big-spending Red Knights boast further star names such as Brazil playmaker Everton Ribeiro and a sizeable UAE contingent.
Despite the disparity in financial resources, undaunted Iran winger Vahid Amiri insisted: “the name of players alone can’t get the result”.
He said: “We have a very difficult match tomorrow, but I can promise you will see a different Naft. We can surprise Ahli.
“I know Ahli have very good players, many of them play in the UAE national team. They also have very good foreign players.
“But we have young players who play for Iran and the Under-23
national team. I know it is a big fight between experience and youth.
“In football, the name of players alone can’t get the result. If one team is focused more, they can be successful.”
Naft have no new injuries to report for the match, with midfielder Iman Mobali still sidelined.