The quality of the AFC Champions League closes the gap in talent to its European counterpart every year and nowhere is this more apparent than in the quality of the finishing.
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Al Nasr remain on track for AFC Champions League progression after they ground out a tedious 0-0 draw with Al Ittihad on Wednesday night.
All the excitement from the previous meeting in Jeddah had seemingly dissipated during the three-week international break. Instead, a game alarmingly devoid of alacrity and opportunities was played out at Al Maktoum Stadium.
The stalemate against opponents who had skipper Ahmed Assiri dismissed at the death saw the Blue Wave lose top spot in Group A to Lokomotiv Tashkent. But a win when they host the Uzbekistanis on April 20 will be enough to see them confound their domestic woes and successfully make the knockout stages at the third time of asking.
This scenario should have been less favourable. The People’s Club – who are two-time Asian kings – travelled to Dubai requiring three points to stand any realistic hope of advancement.
They even crafted the game’s glaring chance, 18-goal Saudi Professional League top scorer Gelmin Rivas contriving to blaze over when in the clear after Saudi Arabia winger Fahad Al Muwallad’s lightning counter-attack on 69 minutes.
A fourth-match without a win in all competitions has increased the pressure on Romanian boss Victor Piturca after the weekend’s derby loss to Al Ahli Jeddah.
A breathless opening clash between last night’s combatants had seen Nilmar get the first of his match-winning double during the opening minute.
Such thrills were not on the agenda this time.
The Brazil striker snatched at an early chance, while team-mate Jonathan Pitroipa had a mis-hit shot blocked on the line.
Nasr seemed confused tactically. They looked most dangerous when the ball was spread out wide to the latter-mentioned Burkina Faso winger or Jires Kmebo Ekoko, yet repeated punts up field saw the slight Nilmar predictably outmuscled before his 85th-minute substitution.
Ittihad briefly revived after the interval, though the horrific miss from Venezuela target man Rivas detailed a lack of conviction. All hope of a late raid disappeared with Assiri’s injury-time dismissal for a cynical nudge on replacement Salem Saleh.
The final whistle when it came was welcomed. Nasr are dropping down the Arabian Gulf League table, but their continental aspirations remain intact.
The Southern China Tigers sit bottom of Group H on two points at the halfway stage. This fall from grace comes less than five months since they defeated Al Ahli 1-0 on aggregate during the 2015 final.
“If we win, we have a chance,” said Scolari, the World Cup 2002-winning coach with Brazil. “If we lose, we will be out of the league.
“The team to lose on Tuesday will say bye-bye. We all know it will be a very important match for both teams, so we have worked very hard. Urawa is a very strong team and is respected even in China, but we will do our best.
“My whole team knows what to do and are all aware that they have to do better, so we will just do what we have to do.”
Meanwhile in West Asia, El Jaish boss Sabri Lamouchi has vowed there will be no let off from his side after their 100-per-cent start in Group D.