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.”
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