Al Wahda boss Maurice Steijn saw red and blamed the “very bad moment” when Brad Jones was not dismissed after Al Nassr knocked his side out of the 2019 AFC Champions League’s round of 16.
The Clarets had been marginal favourites to progress against the Saudi Professional League holders, courtesy of last week’s opening 1-1 draw at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium. These hopes increased when right-back Mohammed Al Menhali produced a fine first-half volley on Monday at Al Nahyan Stadium to earn the aggregate lead.
A trademark header from Morocco predator Abderrazak Hamdallah and brace by Brazil playmaker Guiliano then saw ex-Benfica coach Rui Vitoria’s men charge back ahead. These efforts ensured Argentine striker Sebastian Tagiabue’s 79th-minute deflection was immaterial.
The pivotal moment for new coach Steijn, however, came just past the hour mark – with the tie set at 4-2 – when ex-Liverpool goalkeeper Jones was given only a caution for scything Tagliabue down outside the penalty box.
He said: “I saw a team who was willing to do everything to win the game and I think one very bad moment, and the moment I talk about is the moment when the goalkeeper from Al Nassr…
“For me, it is unbelievable that is not a red card because he totally didn’t go for the ball, he totally tackled – yes you can only give a red card, so it was for me unbelievable that it was yellow.
“But after that, my team created a lot of chances.”
This 3-2 reversal on the night, and 4-3 loss overall, extended Wahda’s wait to make the continental event’s last-eight into a 13th year.
Conversely, it maintained hopes of Nassr claiming their first ACL crown.
“We came from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi and our goal was clear, we only wanted to win,” skipper Omar Hawsawi told the-afc.com.
“As I said during the pre-match press conference, in difficult situations our true spirit always shines through. That was exactly what we showed today.
“Although we conceded a goal midway through the first half, we remained confident in our ability to come back into the match. As a result we continued to attack and were rewarded when we scored the goals and eventually got the valuable win.”
He added: “We dedicate this win and qualification [for the quarter-finals] to the Al Nassr fans who support us everywhere.
“We promise them that the future will be much better.”
Meanwhile, fellow Saudis Al Ittihad emerged victorious from a seven-goal thriller against Iran’s Zob Ahan.
The two-time ACL victors were made to sweat, even with a 2-1 first-leg advantage. A brace from ex-Al Jazira forward Romarinho was then pivotal in a wildly entertaining 4-3 second-leg success.
“I think the game developed like we had predicted,” said Tigers supremo Jose Luis Sierra. “They put a lot of pressure on us and attacked with a lot of energy.
“I think that we performed very well in the first half, apart from the goal we had more chances to score.
“We knew that they were very strong from set-pieces and in effect in the second half they levelled up from a set-piece. Luckily, we were able to score again and go 2-1 up.
“Then, up to our fourth goal we dominated the match. When we went 4-1 up, we lacked a little bit of intensity and they were able to get closer in the scoreboard, but in the end we are happy we are through.”
Abderrahmane Meziane insists their exploits at last year’s FIFA Club World Cup persuaded him to turn down offers from elsewhere in the Middle East as well as Europe to sign with UAE giants Al Ain.
The Algerian forward arrived at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in June on a four-year contract as a direct replacement for prolific Brazilian forward Caio, who signed for Portuguese champions Benfica after flourishing during three years in the Garden City.
The 25-year-old netted seven goals in 24 games as he helped USM Alger lift the Ligue Professionnelle 1 title in his homeland last season, and joins a raft of new arrivals at the Boss, with Brazilian attacker Caio Canedo plucked from Al Wasl, as well as Togo and RS Berkane flyer Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba.
Mohamed Helal has also come in from Ajman as has ex-Al Jazira midfielder Mohamed Jamal, with only versatile Japan defender Tsukasa Shiotani retained from last season’s four-player foreign quota.
“Al Ain wowed the world in the Club World Cup and the popularity of the club is not limited to just an internal scale in the UAE,” said the Medea-born man, capped once by Les Fennecs.
The Boss reached the final of the Club World Cup in December – held on home soil – losing 4-1 to Spanish behemoths Real Madrid in the showpiece held in front of 40,000 fans at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium.
Luka Modric, Marcos Llorente and Sergio Ramos put Los Blancos in control during the December 22 showpiece before Shiotani pulled a goal back late on, with an own goal sealing back-to-back triumphs for Real.
Meziane added: “It was the first choice for me with respect to all other clubs and I have I found in Al Ain what I would find in the European clubs that I received offers from.
“Professionalism and high possibilities and the latest sports facilities that contribute to raise the performance of players.”
After winning the league title in his homeland last term, Meziane is keen to lift more silverware with his new club – and there will be pressure to do so having slumped to a fourth-placed league finish following a tumultuous 2019 which also saw them dumped out of the AFC Champions League at the group stage.
“The ceiling of my ambitions is very high after joining Al Ain, I seek titles and the Champions League in particular,” he said.
“The Al Ain fans have impressed me with the warm welcome and I promise everyone to show my best. I wish my team and colleagues success in fulfilling the aspirations of the fans and I hope to delight them by strengthening the trophy cabinet with more achievements.”
Omar Abdulrahman and Amer Abdulrahman have joined Al Jazira is a huge double swoop for the Abu Dhabi club.
The duo have moved on a free transfer and will join their new team-mates for the first time when the squad returns from their pre-season training camp in the Netherlands on Friday.
Omar, 27, who has 71 international caps, is a prolific forward with an eye for goal and creativity seeing him named as the Asian Player of the Year in 2016.
The move marks a return to UAE football after his contract with Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal ended and will boost Al Jazira’s attacking options this season.
Amer arrives at Al Jazira, having featured for Al Ain and Baniyas. The 30-year-old centre-midfielder, who made 76 appearances for the UAE will bring plenty of experience to the squad having played more than 150 matches in all competitions in the UAE.
Speaking on the new signings, His Excellency Mohamed Saif Al Suwaidi, board member of the Club and chairman of Al Jazira Football Company, said: “Thanks to Allah for helping us to finalise these important signings. They are another example of the big ambitions of this club and I am grateful to the higher management of Al Jazira FC for their continuous support and wise leadership. We wish Omar and Amer a fantastic season ahead. Best of luck to them and their team-mates as we go in search of success on the pitch.”
Omar is excited to the new challenge ahead at Al Jazira. He said: “I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the management of Al Jazira for the trust they have shown in my ability. I am here to help the club reach its goals this season, and in many more to come.
“I have several friends already at the club but I’m excited to meet up with the full squad in the coming days. I will work hard to gain the respect of the coaching staff, the players and the fans. I’m really optimistic about the future and I believe that we will celebrate a lot of good things together.”
Amer described the switch as an opportunity he simply could not turn down. He said: “First of all I want to offer my sincere gratitude to Al Jazira Club for their belief in me. This is an amazing club with a reputation for developing UAE national players. I will give everything to be at my best and to repay the club for the opportunity, but I also want to use this chance to inspire younger players and the next generation.”