Al-Gharafa hold on for a draw against Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli in AFC Champions League

Al-Ahli's Saleh al-Amri (R) fights for the ball with Al-Gharafa's Khaled al-Zereq during the AFC Champions League match between Saudi's Al-Ahli FC and Qatar's Al-Gharafa at the King Abdullah sports city in Jeddah. (AFP)
Updated 13 March 2018
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Al-Gharafa hold on for a draw against Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli in AFC Champions League

JEDDAH: Al-Ahli extended their unbeaten run in the 2018 AFC Champions League to four games after a 1-1 home draw against Qatar’s Al-Gharafa in Group A on Tuesday.
The Qataris came very close to stunning their Saudi Arabian hosts in the sixth minute when Abdelaziz Hatem rattled the right post after a cross from Wesley Sneijder.
Al-Ahli improved as the game went on, with Saleh Al-Amri taking advantage of a misplaced pass to break through on goal but failed to take his chance. At the other end of the pitch, Moayed Hassan tested the goalkeeper from distance but Yasser Al Mosailem was well positioned to save.
Al-Gharafa almost opened the scoring in 19th minute when Mehdi Taremi found himself in front of an empty net after onrushing goalkeeper Al Mosailem failed to clear a ball from Assim Madibo but the Islamic Republic of Iran international somehow missed the target.
Goalless at the break, the Qataris finally took the lead through Taremi who converted a cross from Hassan in the 56th minute.
Al-Gharafa’s joy didn’t last for long as Al-Ahli responded just two minutes later when Saeed Al-Muwallad crossed for Moamen Zakaria, who headed home at the far post.
The Saudis almost had a smash-and-grab winner when Ioannis Fetfatzidis cut inside from the right flank and shot, but it came off the far post. Zakaria found the rebound but failed to net the second goal as his attempt sailed above the crossbar 15 minutes before the final whistle.
The result keeps Al Ahli top of Group A with eight points ahead of their game against Tractorsazi Tabriz while Al-Gharafa are on five points, level with Al-Jazira who they host next.


Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

Updated 22 June 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

  • Saudi Arabia's 1996 Asian Cup-winning coach Nelo Vingada backs Pizzi to lead side into next year's Asian Cup.
  • Green Falcons face Egypt on Monday with both looking to land their first point in Russia.

MOSCOW: Saudi Arabia’s 1996 Asian Cup-winning boss Nelo Vingada has called on the country’s football authorities to keep faith with head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi despite a disappointing showing in Russia.
The Green Falcons still have to face Egypt in the final match of Group A, but have already been eliminated following a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Russia in the opening game on June 14 in Moscow and a 1-0 loss to Uruguay five days later in Rostov.
 “I was expecting a little more from Saudi Arabia to be honest,” Vingada told Arab News.
“In the first game they were disappointing but a first game of the World Cup is always hard and especially when it is the first game and everyone is watching. Plenty of teams at the World Cup did not play well in the first game.
“But playing Russia in Russia and to lose is what you would normally expect from Saudi Arabia and while it was far from positive, people should not get carried away.
“The game with Uruguay was much improved in terms of organization and defense and it showed more of the character of the Saudi Arabia team.”
In the past, coaches have been axed following disappointing World Cup campaigns but with the 2019 Asian Cup just seven months away, the Portuguese tactician would prefer to see some stability rather than yet another new man in the dugout.
 “The Asian Cup is in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will be one of the contenders,” Vingada said. “It is better to stay with the same coach. He has a vision of how he wants the team to play and he now knows the players and the players know him.”
Constant changing has not helped Saudi Arabia in the past and Pizzi himself has been in the job just seven months.
“The problem is not the coach. He should not be changed, that has happened before but results did not improve, but the mentality has to change.”
Despite that Vingada, who has coached 
Egyptian club giants Zamalek and the country’s Under-23 team, believes that the Pharaohs, also eliminated, will prevail when the two regional rivals meet on Monday in Volgograd.
 “This is an important game for pride, the players and the countries. It is still the World Cup. Egypt have a little more quality I think and have Mohamed Salah too.” 
The Liverpool striker has been recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in late May and missed the opening game 1-0 loss to Uruguay. He played in the second game, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Russia, scoring from the spot late in the match to earn a consolation.
“Any coach would take Salah because he can win you games but overall Egypt have been a little disappointing and a little unlucky.”
The bad luck came when conceding a last-minute goal to Uruguay and a fluke own goal to get Russia off the mark. “Uruguay are a tough team and it is no shame to lose 3-1 to a Russia team at home who are playing to qualify for the next round. It showed that European and South American teams still have a little more quality.”
 “Egypt just made some mistakes at the wrong time but this is football and without mistakes there are no goals.”
Ahead of the clash against Egypt Pizzi confirmed his intention to stay as Saudi Arabia boss, looking to build on the seven months he has had to imprint his ideas on the team ahead of the Asian Cup.