Al-Hilal’s latest Champions League defeat lays bare problems at Riyadh giants

Al-Hilal’s 2-1 defeat at Al-Rayyan on Monday left them bottom of Group D in the AFC Champions League. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Al-Hilal’s latest Champions League defeat lays bare problems at Riyadh giants

LONDON: Al-Hilal’s 2-1 defeat at Al-Rayyan on Monday left them bottom of Group D in the AFC Champions League with just two points from four games. More than that, it left the Riyadh giants with huge questions to ask.
It is just three months since they reached the final of Asia’s premier club competition, unlucky in losing to Urawa Reds. Since the referee blew the final whistle in Japan, however, Al-Hilal have seemingly gone from good to bad to worse.
As if to illustrate the problems they face, Yasser Al-Qahtani’s last-minute consolation was only Al-Hilal’s second goal in the tournament so far.
One of the favorites for this year’s title are heading for an early exit and few of the club’s passionate fans could argue that it would be undeserved.
The performance in Doha on Monday was a microcosm of what has gone wrong over the past three months and laid bare the problems the side face.
Al-Hilal’s interim coach Juan Brown is 40, just three years older than the man he turned to against Al-Rayyan. Midfielder Mohammed Al-Shalhoub did not offer much of the expected composure and intelligence. The veteran slowed down the play too much and was wasteful in possession, a problem for the visitors all night.
That they have been forced to turn to a player whose best days are long gone would have been unthinkable three months ago. But it is the result of events beyond their control. Eduardo picked up a serious injury in November and has yet to return — that he remained the club’s joint-leading scorer in the league until earlier this month said a lot.
As if that loss was not enough, Al-Hilal then lost last year’s Asian Player of the Year, Omar Khribin. No team in Asia would not miss such a pair and it does not help that Nawaf Al-Abed, one of the best playmakers east of Europe, has also struggled with injuries.
As if to compound those unfortunate loses, the signings made earlier this year, such as Moroccan striker Achraf Bencharki and Ezequiel Cerutti of Argentina, have failed to shine. The lack of service has been an issue but Cerutti especially has yet to really click.
Ramon Diaz’s sacking as head coach in February after a 1-0 loss at Esteghlal has failed to have the desired effect. Caretaker boss Brown’s lack of experience and authority was always going to be a potential problem, but his appointment has not even produced the kind of short-term galvanizing effect associated with a change of coach. Al-Hilal have won one out of four under the Argentine and their lead at the top of the Saudi Premier League has been cut to a single point. They were already looking enviously at the impressive Al-Ahli in continental competition, now they are looking over their shoulders at the Jeddah club at home as well.
Brown could argue that this 2018 group is tougher than last year when Al-Hilal had six more points at this stage. But, while you could indeed find favor with that argument, the fact is he has bigger problems than simply trying to get out of the group — which while unlikely, is still possible.


Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

Updated 23 September 2018
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Work still to be done for Egypt's Al-Ahly in quest for African Champions League glory

  • The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title
  • Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2

CAIRO: Al-Ahly coach Patrice Carteron has warned his players against complacency in their forthcoming African Champions League semifinal clash against Setif of Algeria, even though his side swept through with a 4-0 quarterfinal second-leg victory over Guinea’s Horoya in Cairo on Saturday.
The Egyptian giants took a step closer to a ninth continental title with the win against the Guineans after a goalless first leg. From the moment Walid Soliman opened the scoring after 32 minutes at the Al-Salam Stadium, the result was never in doubt as the Reds put in a dominant performance.
Second half goals from Islam Mohareb, Salah Mohsen and Ahmed Fathy confirmed the win.
“It was a good performance, especially as the pitch was poor,” Carteron said. “We are happy to go through but we controlled the game, especially in the second half when we were at our best. We adjusted our offensive strategy at the break and that made a difference.”
Attention immediately changed to the first leg against Setif in Cairo on Oct. 2.
“We know that the game will be very tough as Setif are a strong team but this is the semifinal of the Champions League, you know that any game is going to be tough,” added the Frenchman.
Setif defeated defending champions Wydad Casablanca of Morocco 1-0 on aggregate and will host Al-Ahly in Algeria in the second leg on Oct. 23.
“Setif were the champions in 2014 and we know that we are going to have be at our best if we are going to the final,” said the 48 year-old, who also coached TP Mazembe of Congo to the 2015 title. He is aiming to deliver similar success for Al-Ahly, who last lifted the trophy in 2013.
“When I took the job three months ago, the target was clear: to win the Champions League. That is still the objective and we have taken a big step toward that today.
“Standards in the competition are getting better all the time and results in the quarterfinal show this,” Carteron said, adding that he and his players had taken note of how Mazembe had been knocked out at the last-eight stage.
“Now we are in the semifinal and we have to prepare as well as we can to face Setif. It will be a big challenge but we are looking forward to it.”
Setif reached the semifinal after a 0-0 draw in the second leg in Morocco on Friday to take the tie 1-0 on aggregate following a win on Algerian soil a week earlier.
Goalkeeper Moustapha Zeghba was the star of the show in Casablanca and made a number of fine saves to deny the defending champions.
It was a feather in the cap for coach Rachid Taoussi, a Moroccan who coached Wydad from 2002 to 2003.
“We managed this game very well,” Taoussi said. “We withstood the pressure. It is not easy to keep out such a team, especially with their fans behind them. In the end they had to play long balls and that made it easier for us to defend.”
While Morocco may have lost its sole representative left in the competition, Taoussi is flying the flag for his homeland. “I am proud to be Moroccan. I respect Wydad and the supporters a lot. It’s not easy for anyone to come here and play like we did.
“It is also a demonstration for those who constantly criticize the skills of Moroccan coaches. I’m so happy. That said, the most important thing for us now is to think about going even further in this competition, that is, reaching the final. We have one more step to go; we will give everything until the end.”
The other semifinal sees a third North African team trying to reach the showpiece event as Esperance de Tunis take on Clube Desportivo de Agosto of Angola.