Lethal Brazilian forward Fabio De Lima’s superb opener for Al Wasl was not enough to prevent a losing return to the AFC Champions League after 10 years away, substitute Baghdad Bounedjah turning the game around with his late brace in Al Sadd’s painful 2-1 victory.
In a tight Group C-opener, De Lima brilliantly found the bottom corner in the 26th minute. Algeria centre forward Bounedjah then emerged to convert Spain icon Xavi’s cutting pass and punish awful defending on the stroke of injury time.
Here, are the major talking points:
NAIVE CHEETAHS GET CLAWED
Wasl coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena will regret the accuracy of his pre-match prediction.
The ex-Argentina left-back noted a glaring disparity in experience to the QNB Stars League’s second-placed team – he was proved right.
Wasl’s thin, top-heavy squad lacked the nous to prevent Xavi wrestling control from their grasp after a bright start. Sadd replacements Akram Afif and Bounedjah also excelled.
You can possess attacking talent to envy, but this elite level requires much more.
XAVI’S TIMELESS ABILITY
The near 6,000-strong crowd at Zabeel Stadium were witnessing some of the final acts in one of football’s best careers.
At 38-years old and with retirement assured this summer, Xavi’s role is now to provide constant direction and guidance to his team rather than consistent excellence.
Not that the man who played 767 times for Barcelona and 133 times for Spain cannot still influence proceedings from midfield. His inspired assist for Bounedjah’s 79th-minute leveller dissected a packed penalty box.
WASL’S DECADE OF CHANGE
Even in defeat, Wasl must reflect on how far they’ve come.
The Cheetahs dug their claws into the 1980s, winning four of their seven Arabian Gulf League crowns.
But a tumultuous few years were witnessed between May 21, 2008’s 1-1 draw against Iran’s Saipa in the ACL and Tuesday night’s continental return versus Sadd.
A steep decline was witnessed after 2006/07’s last title triumph; controversial Argentina icon Maradona turning them into a circus act in 2011/12 and relegation even being flirted with in 2013/14. They should not forget this.
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