Al-Ahli still feel confident of AFC Champions League progess despite defeat in Doha

]Al-Sadd's Morteza Pouraliganji (top) and Baghdad Bounedjah (front left) vie for the ball against Al-Ahli's Claudemir de Souza (second top) and Mortaz Hawsawi (second right) during a full-blooded AFC Champions League football clash in Doha. (AFP)
Updated 08 May 2018
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Al-Ahli still feel confident of AFC Champions League progess despite defeat in Doha

  • Al-Ahli lose 2-1 in first leg of last-16 tie
  • But Jeddah outfit have that all-important away goal

Al-Ahli may have lost the first leg of their AFC Champions League round of 16 clash with Al-Sadd in Qatar 2-1 on Monday, but the Saudi Arabians were the happier of the two teams at the end and they believe that a quarter-final spot is within reach.
Al-Ahli, who topped their group unbeaten, were 2-0 down at the break after two goals from Boualem Khoukhi and there was a fear the tie could have been over after the first leg. But the Saudi Arabians rallied in the second half, created numerous chances and pulled one back thanks to a header from Mohanned Aseri. It could turn out to be a vital away goal.
The second leg will take place at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on Monday when a big crowd is expected — and caretaker coach Fathi Al-Jabal is already looking forward to the test. “We achieved our first objective of scoring a goal away from home,” the Tunisian tactician said in the post-match press conference in Doha. “This could be of great importance in the return leg.”
Al-Ahli had 21 attempts on goal during the 90 minutes compared to 16 from Al-Sadd, which suggests they gave as good as they got in Doha and have the tools to open up the Qataris.
“It was a tough game between two good teams but were conceded the two goals in the first half,” said Al-Jabal. “We came back in the second but luck was not always on our side.”
Despite Al-Ahli’s second-half revival, Al-Sadd almost extended their advantage late in the game and it took two fine saves from Al-Ahli goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais to deny Baghdad Bounedjah and Akram Afif and leave the second leg very much in the balance.
“OK, we lost and this was a negative result but this is only half-time and there is a second game,” Al-Jabal added. “We will play next week in front of our fans and in our stadium. We have enough to overcome the deficit and progress to the next round.”
Jesualdo Ferreira, the Al-Sadd coach, has plenty of experience of knockout football with European giants Benfica and Porto and he feels his side missed a trick in not putting the tie to bed.
“It was not a satisfactory result for us,” Ferreria said. “It was important not to concede a goal but unfortunately we did. I was not happy with our defense today. We could have scored five goals with the number of chances we created. And in the end we were punished.”
The Portuguese boss is expecting a tough game in what is set to be a bouncing atmosphere in Jeddah.
“Now they need just a goal in the return leg to win on aggregate,” he said. “It’s a harsh result and I am very sad because of it. Not just the defenders, the whole team did not defend well. I want to be logical, not pessimistic, but the match in Jeddah will be a very difficult for us.”
Al-Ahli’s domestic season finished last month and they can rest up ahead of the second leg. Al-Sadd, meanwhile, have a big game just three days before the showdown in Jeddah. “We are playing back-to-back matches in different tournaments,” Ferriera said. “We have the Emir Cup semifinal against Duhail on Friday and then we travel to Saudi for the match on Monday. It will be difficult for us.”


Blue Point focused on Al-Quoz glory after magical run at Meydan

Updated 29 min 30 sec ago
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Blue Point focused on Al-Quoz glory after magical run at Meydan

  • Star sprinter proves class with easy G2 win in Dubai.
  • Charlie Appleby hopeful over Al-Quoz Sprint chances.

LONDON: Star sprinter Blue Point is on course for glory in the much-anticipated Al-Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night. That is the message from Godolphin after a brilliant victory in the G2 Meydan Sprint on Thursday.
The Dubai-based stable have long held high hopes for the Shamardal horse and the five-year-old’s win confirmed that they have something special on their hands.
Blue Point took up the running from Faatinah with more than two furlongs to race and readily opened up daylight over his rivals approaching the final furlong, quickly going clear.
For Charlie Appleby the performance only went to prove that Blue Point has it in him to steal the show on Dubai World Cup night in March.
“If he brought his class, he was going to be good enough to win, but we had left a bit on him because the G1 Al-Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night is our target,” the Godolphin trainer said.
“No disrespect to this race, and we were pleased to win it, but it was the right stepping stone onto the Al-Quoz.
“I was pleased to see him in the paddock, more so than a couple of days ago when it looked like he had a couple of pounds left on him. He had tightened up a bit.
“We were always confident that he was going to come forward for whatever he did. He is a five-year-old now and a professional — getting better with racing. He came alive two furlongs down and it was only a matter of William asking him to pick up and do a bit of work.”
The “Boys in Blue” always place a lot of focus on the World Cup night and a second win in the Al-Quoz sprint — Appleby saddled Jungle Cat to victory last year — is one of the aims for the famous race meeting in March.
“I am very pleased and, all being well, he should step forward for it and all roads will now lead to the Al-Quoz Sprint,” Appleby said.
“I feel that he is not overly exposed as a sprinter — we looked after him as a two-year-old and a three-year-old, while he wasn’t over-raced last year so he is entitled still to be learning.”
Added to the optimism surrounding Blue Point is the fact that William Buick feels he is coming to form at just the right time.
“It was a nice comeback opportunity for Blue Point and he did it very comfortably, doing everything right. It was lovely to see him come back like that,” the jockey said. “He has probably matured a little bit compared to 12 months ago and the biggest difference this year is that he is a G1 winner this time. He had proved himself and feels like a very confident horse — there is no question that he is a top sprinter.”
Meanwhile, Godolphin’s star G1 performers Hartnell, Best Of Days and Alizee have been entered for the world’s richest mile race, the $5 million All-Star Mile to be run at Flemington on March 16.
Head trainer James Cummings confirmed that all three horses will seek a place in the famous race.
“We think it’s great the way in which it really engages with not only the racing audience, but potentially reaching out beyond just that and bringing in a wider audience from not only Australia, but from around the world,” Cummings said. “We’re really excited to be a part of the richest mile race anywhere in the world.”