Winfried Schaefer says Al-Hilal are 'favorites' for AFC Champions League clash with Esteghlal

Winfried Schaefer feels his Esteghlal side are underdogs for the game with Al-Hilal. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018
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Winfried Schaefer says Al-Hilal are 'favorites' for AFC Champions League clash with Esteghlal

DUBAI: Esteghlal may be one of the most successful teams in Asian football history but the Iranian giants are claiming underdog status ahead of their AFC Champions League clash with Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Both teams have lifted the continental title twice but neither has won the Champions League since its formation in 2003. That Al-Hilal reached the final in 2014 and 2017 means they are the team to beat, according to Esteghlal coach Winfried Schaefer.
“Al-Hilal impressed last year in the AFC Champions League and they have done so far again this season,” Schaefer told Arab News. “They’re favorites. I think they know that too. They’re physically strong and they are full of players who have a good technique. They’re very confident and we know that we have to be at our very best. It is important that our players are aggressive and positive.”
Esteghlal watched Al-Hilal’s 0-0 draw with Al-Ain in the opening round of games last week and spotted a few chinks in the armor of Ramon Diaz’s side.
“I don’t want to point out their weakness just before we play each other,” said Schaefer. “But I’m confident we found a few weak aspects of their game that may benefit us. They are missing players, too.”
Al-Hilal are not only without star striker and AFC Player of the Year Omar Khribin but are also missing Salem Al-Dawsari, on loan in Spain, and playmakers Carlos Eduardo and Nawaf Al-Abed. Midfielder Salman Al-Faraj is also expected to miss the game. According to Riyadh media, former Bolton Wanderers star Ali Al-Habsi will play in goal instead of Abdullah Al-Maiouf.
In the opening round of games last week, Esteghlal, who are waiting on a couple of minor injury issues, had to be content with a 2-2 draw against Al-Rayyan of Qatar. It should have been better according to the German as his team enjoyed 62 percent of possession but had to rely on a late Ali Ghorbani goal to come away with a point.
“I can’t be happy with our finishing and that’s a problem that has followed us from the league. But on the other hand, I’m of course very happy regarding our team spirit, our performance in general. We made two mistakes and Al Rayyan was clever enough to use them.”
— Esteghlal vs. Al-Hilal, Seeb Stadium, Oman, Tuesday, 3:30 p.m. kick-off.


Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard beat Tunisia and power Belgium to brink of World Cup last 16

Updated 23 June 2018
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Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard beat Tunisia and power Belgium to brink of World Cup last 16

  • Romelu Lukaku drew level with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the World Cup goalscoring charts on Saturday
  • Belgium captain Eden Hazard scored in either half, including an early penalty at the Spartak Stadium

MOSCOW: Romelu Lukaku drew level with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the World Cup goalscoring charts on Saturday, scoring twice as Belgium moved to the brink of the last 16 after a 5-2 romp against Tunisia.
The victory leaves the Red Devils top of Group G with two wins ahead of their clash on Thursday against England, who play Panama on Sunday.
After also scoring twice in the opening 3-0 win against Panama, Manchester United’s Lukaku showed clinical finishing with two first-half goals in Moscow, matching Ronaldo’s tally in Russia.
Not to be outdone, Belgium captain Eden Hazard scored in either half, including an early penalty at the Spartak Stadium, before substitute Michy Batshuayi added their fifth.
Tunisia’s consolation goals came from defender Dylan Bronn and captain Wahbi Khazri.
The Belgians were criticized by coach Roberto Martinez for starting slowly against Panama in their first group match but flew out of the blocks in Moscow.
Hazard — having been on the receiving end of some bruising tackles in Belgium’s opener — was sent tumbling after just five minutes but converted the penalty to open his Russian account.
Midfielder Ferjani Sassi picked up an early booking for complaining when Tunisia’s appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears, just before Belgium added their second goal.
Ali Maaloul’s weak pass on the halfway line was collected by Dries Mertens, who sprinted away and put Lukaku clear.
The striker coolly hit his shot inside the far post, just past the outstretched glove of Tunisia keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha, in the 16th minute.
Tunisia responded two minutes later, Bronn leaping highest to head home a free-kick from his skipper Khazri on 18 minutes, only to be later carried off after landing awkwardly following a collision.
With half-time approaching, the Belgians grabbed their third goal.
After earlier squandering two clear chances created by Kevin De Bruyne, Lukaku converted his third opportunity just before the half-time whistle.
Thomas Meunier put him in behind the defense and Lukaku tucked his shot away, celebrating with De Bruyne, who started the move.
The Manchester City midfield maestro turned provider again after the break for Hazard.
The Chelsea star sprinted onto De Bruyne’s lofted pass, held off two defenders, rounded keeper Ben Mustapha and tapped home Belgium’s fourth goal in the 51st minute.
With one eye on the England game, Martinez took off Lukaku, then Hazard as the half wore on and for the final 22 minutes brought on Batshuayi, who could have scored five.
The Borussia Dortmund forward had a chance cleared off the line, was twice denied by Ben Mustapha’s saves and hit the crossbar, finally converting a cross for Belgium’s fifth goal.
Tunisia captain Khazri grabbed their second goal just before the final whistle of their second defeat in Russia.