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.
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.
The Clarets face Al Nassr – champions of Saudi Arabia – in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Monday night, heading into the lion’s den of Riyadh’s formidable King Fahd Stadium.
They have lost influential Henk ten Cate, who was the driving force behind their historic progression from the group stage, in the ensuing two-and-a-half months. And they are relative continental novices in the sense that the last time they played a knockout clash, it was way back in 2007.
Veteran forward Ismail Matar, now 36, was just 24, when Wahda made it all the way to the semi-finals 12 years ago, losing 3-1 on aggregate to Iran’s Sepahan, who in turn would go on to lose 3-1 to Japan’s Urawa Reds in the final.
Having said that, only Sanfrecce Hiroshima amassed more points (15) than Wahda’s 13 in the group stage and no team in Asia scored more than their 14 goals.
And Matar’s fellow old head, Sebastian Tagliabue, feels Wahda have just as much going for them as the Saudi kings.
“We play against the last champion of Saudi Arabia. It could not be more difficult,” the Arabian Gulf League’s record foreign goalscorer told Sport360 ahead of Monday’s first leg.
“And it’s more than Champions League, it’s Champions League against Al Nassr, they have been growing in the last three-four years. But we are Al Wahda and we are also growing up in the last five years a lot.
“The bad thing for us is we’ve grown up a lot in the last six months but we’ve missed players and the coach, a few things. But the people who have come in are also good, so we have to work, know each other and I think we can pass this round. It will be very difficult but we have a big chance to pass.”
Although the obstacle is a mountainous one, Tagliabue feels his side will take great confidence with a positive performance and result in Riyadh and feels that if Wahda progress to the quarter-finals, victory against Nassr would give them huge confidence for the rest of the tournament.
“You know, some people say the most difficult games in the Champions League is the group stage, because after it is only two games,” added the 34-year-old, who finished top scorer in the AGL for a second time in six seasons last term with 27 strikes.
“You play 90 minutes and then you prepare for another game. Before this 90 minutes you never know what will happen. So maybe you have a very good game and win 3-0 so the next game you have to move the ball, score maybe one goal and it will be tight.
“Yes (this game will be more difficult), because of the timing, coming from holiday, it’s the first two games of the season, it’s very hot. If you win these two games you will have a lot of confidence. The other team (in the quarter-finals) will too, of course, have confidence.”
Although Wahda and new coach Maurice Steijn might be heading into uncharted territory, they can rely on cool heads in their veterans Matar and Tagliabue, with the Argentine able to call on his previous knockout stage experience.
He scored three of Al Shabab Riyadh’s five goals en route to a 5-1 aggregate victory over Qatar’s Al Gharafa – a side containing ex-Australia international Mark Bresciano and former Liverpool and France striker Djibril Cisse – in the last 16 of the 2013 edition.
They exited at the hands of South Korea’s Kashiwa Reysol on away goals in the last eight.
“When I was in Al Shabab in Saudi, I played in this game – the first round of the knockouts – and we won,” he recalled.
“The first game was unbelievable, it was 2-1 away, very tough, and then the second game we killed Al Gharafa, I scored two at home. It was very nice. It will be difficult but I think if we pass it will give us confidence that we can go further.”
As for the game coming early and returning to pre-season long before other AGL sides, Tagliabue believes it can be both a blessing and a disguise for this tie and the domestic season to come.
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no,” he added when asked if coming back from holiday earlier is a help or hindrance.
“Sometimes yes because you play two games before you start the league, plus the Arabian Gulf Cup. In another way it can be the opposite because you start too early.
“When we came back from the camp in Europe a few weeks ago, some other local teams were just going to their camp.
“We start one month before everyone maybe and now it’s coming fast. We will see how we manage the training and games at the end of the season. But now it is very hot and difficult. Every day we feel much better but it’s difficult at this time to train and play.”
Saudi Professional League runners-up Al Hilal are close to securing a permanent €8.3 million deal for loan star Andre Carrillo, according to reports.
Carrillo, 28, notched six assists and three goals in 21 top-flight appearances upon arrival from Portugal’s Benfica. The Crescent have been locked in negotiations since to secure the ex-Watford loanee’s full-time signature and a breakthrough has been made.
A Bola stated that a fee has been agreed for 70 per cent of the Peru winger’s rights and president Fahad bin Nafil Alotaibi is in Lisbon tying up the final details. Hilal had pressed for another temporary arrangement, but this was blocked.
Riyadh rivals and reigning SPL champions Al Nassr had also been linked with him.
A $2.8m transfer was secured earlier this month by Hilal for FC Tokyo centre-back Jang Hyun-soo. The ex-South Korea international should replace Australia’s Milos Degenek as the Asian-designated player in the seven-person foreign quota for 2019/20.
Elsewhere, “large” financial demands from fit-again UAE superstar Omar Abdulrahman have caused talks about a new contract to be shelved.
Abdulrahman, 27, was expected to re-sign for the Crescent after fitness tests in Dubai last week proved his complete recovery from October’s serious knee injury. A statement from the club, however, detail exorbitant requests from the playmaker’s camp and a failure to respond to a 24-hour deadline.
This breakdown ensured discussions were hastily broken off with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club about the sale of Brazilian midfielder Carlos Eduardo.