Al Wahda boss Henk ten Cate hopes his side can rewrite history and end more than a decade of continental hurt by qualifying for the AFC Champions League’s knockout rounds in front of their own fans in two weeks’ time.
The Clarets have not featured beyond the group stages in Asia’s premier club competition for 12 years but took a giant step closer to doing so on Monday night when they edged Qatar’s Al Rayyan in a seven-goal thriller, 4-3.
Brazilian forward Leonardo was the hero with all four goals in Abu Dhabi – scoring twice in the final eight minutes as the capital city side sealed an incredible fightback from 3-1 down with 34 minutes remaining.
“It’s a long time that Al Wahda qualified for the next stage, and especially the way we did it with the home games we played,” said Dutchman Ten Cate.
“We scored four against Al Ittihad, and four now, in spectacular games. I hope we get a good result in the next game and we can celebrate with the supporters.
“We have two matches to get only one point. We should finish it off next week, the next game at home. It would be great if we could do that for our supporters.”
The Clarets have not featured in the Champions League since 2007, when they went on to reach the semi-finals – losing 3-1 on aggregate to Iran’s Sepahan.
And Ten Cate was pleased his brave tactics to throw on an extra attacker at the break paid off – with veteran Ismail Matar playing a part in Leonardo’s winner.
“This is a fantastic result. A good second half… a really good second half,” he said.
“I saw the hunger in the team so I pushed them to go more, to go for the victory. We took a risk, of course, but we brought a fresh attacker on. We wanted this. And it worked out. Very happy, very happy. Very proud. What a game.
“This is what they are capable of; this is what they want. This is what we want to see. Especially the spirit and the hard work they do every game. It’s great. It’s not easy to come back after 3-1, but they did.”
It was a case of déjà vu for Rayyan boss Gilson de Souza who had seen his side beaten 2-1 after leading in the reverse home fixture two weeks earlier.
The visitors came racing off the blocks and were in front within 120 seconds through Sebastian Soria. They doubled their lead just four minutes later through Gelmin Rivas who would then make it 3-1 in the 21st minute after Leonardo had briefly made it 2-1 with a brilliant individual goal.
Leonardo pounced on a loose ball, cutting inside into his left and drilling home his fifth strike of the competition to make it 3-2 just before the hour and he netted his hat-trick in the 82nd minute to make it all square, tapping in Khalil Ibrahim’s cross.
Unbelievably, he added a fourth a minute from time, nodding in Hussain Abbas’ touch to send the home fans soaring.
With Wahda on the verge of emerging from the group stages, that doesn’t seem the case for the UAE’s other representatives though, who both suffered 2-0 defeats on Tuesday.
Al Ain remain bottom of Group C following defeat at home to Al Duhail – Almoez Ali and Youssef El Arabi goals earning former Manchester United No2 Rui Faria’s side victory.
Meanwhile, in Dubai, Al Wasl also went down by the same scoreline to remain bottom of Group A with three points – Alireza Cheraghali and Amir Motahari with the Iranians’ goals.
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