Al Wahda favourites to progress to Champions League last eight after Al Nassr point

Matt Jones - Editor 17:06 06/08/2019
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Wahda players celebrate Leonardo's (No42) equaliser.

Al Wahda took a giant step towards the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League following a 1-1 draw with Saudi Arabia champions Al Nassr in Riyadh – but Hamdan Al Kamali insists the Clarets will now “forget” about the result and move on to next week’s second leg.

Wahda – now under the tutelage of Maurice Steijn who was unveiled as new coach only a month ago – earned a valuable result at King Fahd International Stadium, one that puts them in the driving seat to progress to the last eight.

But veteran centre-back Al Kamali – who spent time with Ligue 1 side Lyon earlier in his career – knows an equally tough test lies ahead when his side welcome the reigning Saudi Pro League victors to Al Nahyan Stadium on Monday.

“Look, the result is not bad, you are playing against a big team, Al Nassr, and in their stadium so it is not easy to get a positive result,” Al Kamali, 30, said after the game.

“Today we played well and it was a very good match in all aspects, defence or attack. We had a good display in 90 minutes and now we still have the second half at home. I hope we continue in this way and this spirit.

“It will be a tough match, tomorrow we will forget about this match because the next one will be difficult and hopefully we will be successful and reach the next round.”

It was an exhilarating result for the Clarets’ travelling fans and the players, who returned to pre-season training a month before most of their Arabian Gulf League rivals in preparation for the tie.

They have already written a new chapter in the history of the club by reaching the knockout rounds of the continental competition for the first time in 12 years. On that occasion, in 2007, Wahda went all the way to the semi-finals before exiting at the hands of Iran’s Sepahan.

Veteran UAE striker Ismail Matar played in that tie as a 24-year-old, and the 36-year-old captained the UAE side in Saudi on Monday night.

The hosts took the lead after 17 minutes when Sultan Al Ghannam’s inch-perfect right wing cross was headed in acrobatically by Morocco international Abderrazak Hamdallah.

Brazilian forward Leonardo, so influential for Wahda in the competition already with eight group stage goals in six games, notched his ninth when he equalised eight minutes after the break, latching onto a through ball and calmly finishing when he rounded Nassr stopper Brad Jones – the former Liverpool keeper.

South Korea defender Rim Chang-woo echoed Al Kamali’s comments by reiterating that the return leg at home does not mean Wahda can relax.

“It was good for us because Al Nassr are a very strong team,” said the 27-year-old, capped six times by the Taegeuk Warriors.

“They are champions from last season. So we prepared very well and today we fight for each other, we speak to each other and that’s why we got the result today.

“But even with the draw it won’t be an easy game in our home. We have to fight until the end of the second match.”

Elsewhere, Al Ittihad coach Jose Luis Sierra expressed his satisfaction with his team’s performance in the 2-1 victory over Zob Ahan in the first leg of their last 16 clash in Dubai on Monday.

Hamdan Al Kamali has warned the tie is not over (pic courtesy of Al Wahda FC).

Hamdan Al Kamali has warned the tie is not over (pic courtesy of Al Wahda FC).

After going behind to a Ghasem Haddadifar strike inside the opening 10 minutes, the two-time Champions League winners came from behind to snatch a ‘home’ victory at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium.

Goals from new signing Luis Jimenez – the ex-Inter Milan, Al Nasr and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai midfielder – and defender Ziyad Al Sahafi helped Sierra’s men end the Iranian’s six-game unbeaten run in the competition.

“It is our first competitive match of the season. So, overall, I’m satisfied with our performance and I can only expect the team to get better with every passing game,” explained the Chilean tactician, who re-joined Ittihad in February, having earlier helped them win two domestic trophies in a two-year stint between 2016 and 2018.

The winners of the tie will face another Saudi side in the last eight, either Al Ahli or Al Hilal, who played on Tuesday. Wahda know they will definitely face Qatari opposition if they progress, with Al Sadd and Al Duhail also playing their first leg late on Tuesday.

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