Complacency is Al Hilal’s only true enemy when they defend a gargantuan 4-1 first-leg lead against depleted Al Sadd in Tuesday’s 2019 AFC Champions League semi-final decider.
The Saudi Professional League giants – aided by 2018 AFC Player of the Year Abdelkarim Hassan’s unforgivable red card for dissent – roared back from a goal down in Doha three weeks ago. A eventful tie for ex-France centre forward Bafetimbi Gomis witnessed him first place into his own goal, before his brace was added to by Saudi Arabia centre-back Ali Al Bulayhi and veteran midfielder Mohammed Al Shalhoub.
With Sadd’s prolific Algeria hit man Baghdad Bounedjah also picking up a ban in the final throes, it leaves the 2011 winners with a Herculean task at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium. For hosts Hilal, who’ve never lifted the ACL in its current 17-year guise, a third final appearance in six editions is virtually assured.
In East Asia, Fabio Cannavaro’s Guangzhou Evergrande will need to be lifted by more than 50,000 partisan fans on Wednesday when they attempt to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit to two-time champions Urawa Red Diamonds.
Long-distance strikes from Fabricio and Takahiro Sekine put the Japanese giants in a strong position against the Chinese Super League heavyweights and two-time continental victors. The midweek hosts at Tianhe Stadium will look towards Brazil midfielders Paulinho and Anderson Talisca, plus naturalised China striker Elkeson (or Ai Kesen), to put them back into contention.
The last-four winners from either side of Asia will meet in next month’s two-legged showpiece.
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Round 4 of the 2019/20 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
Champions Sharjah earned a punishing 5-1 victory against woeful Al Wasl thanks to another dose of Igor Coronado magic, while Al Ain had prolific summer buy Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba for a late 2-1 win versus promoted Hatta. At the other end, Ittihad Kalba gained a first triumph through Peniel Mlapa’s powerful header against Fujairah.
Here are Sport360°’s top picks and a talking point:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Alvaro Negredo (Al Nasr)
In a week when rumours of a winter exit strengthened, Alvaro Negredo showed his continuing commitment.
The ex-Spain striker headed, naturally, a brace for Al Nasr when they beat Al Wahda 3-1 to pick up their first three points of an awful 2019/20. Keep this up and he can leave for Almeria as a hero.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Leonardo (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club)
So much is expected of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club’s summer recruit.
And the ex-Al Wahda forward continued to deliver with a cheeky strike in the 2-0 win versus Bani Yas.
A fourth AGL goal of the campaign came with a rascal of a nutmeg, before winding up for a rocket that flew into the roof of the net.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Jorge Da Silva (Ittihad Kalba)
A positive first impression for the Tigers’ new man at the helm.
The former Al Nassr and Bani Yas tactician had Togo centre forward Peniel Mlapa’s concussive second-half header to thank for a debut win versus Fujairah. This 1-0 triumph was Kalba’s first in the AGL since December 14, 2018, plus first clean sheet since last April – the great escape begins.
Wasl’s sums will soon not add up about woeful Reghecampf’s future
With each passing humiliation it becomes ever more glaring that the only thing protecting bottom-placed Al Wasl coach Laurentiu Reghecampf is his preposterous wage packet.
Saturday’s 5-1 surrender to champions Sharjah made it seven AGL matches without victory. In normal circumstance, the exit door would have long beckoned.
These, however, are not normal circumstance. Not when a rumoured termination fee of Dh12 million is involved.
What will cost more, the Romanian’s compensation or relegation?
Jose Luis Sierra has departed fallen Saudi Professional League giants Al Ittihad for the second time in little more than a year.
Sierra, 50, was dismissed in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s 1-0 reversal at Al Wehda. This fourth loss in seven 2019/20 top-flight fixtures left the toothless Tigers down in eighth and only four points above the relegation zone, while last month they also were downed by rivals Al Hilal in the 2019 AFC Champions League’s quarter-finals.
The ex-Chile midfielder guided his former side to safety after he answered February’s alarm call, following Slaven Bilic’s woeful reign. He had previously won the 2017 Saudi Crown Prince Cup and 2018 King’s Cup, prior to departing for an ill-fated three-month stint at the Arabian Gulf League’s Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club once his deal was, surprisingly, not renewed.
Saudi Arabian Mohamed Abdali has been placed in temporary charge while they assess candidates to become the club’s fourth permanent manager since May 2018. Okaz newspaper has stated that negotiations have been opened with Croatia’s Zlatko Dalic.
“The Board of Directors of at Al Ittihad, headed by Mr Anmar bin Abdullah Al Ha’ili, have decided to sack Chilean coach Luis Sierra as coach,” a statement read. “We give thanks to him.”
“The Board of Directors clarifies that the decision to dismiss him was a result of the negative results achieved by the team.
“The council announced the appointment of Saudi national Mohamed Abdali to lead the team at the present stage.”
Ittihad are next scheduled to visit the UAE’s Al Wasl on Wednesday in an Arab Club Champions Cup round-of-16 opener.