Mahmoud Ahmad, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Thu, 2006-04-13 03:00

JEDDAH, 13 April 2006 — Against all expectations of an even match between Al-Ahli and Al-Ittihad, the first stepladder contest last night was totally one sided in favor of Ittihad who were better organized and in better shape than the young Ahli team.

With a resounding 3-0 victory at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium here Ittihad moved up the ladder to face second-ranked Al-Hilal in Riyadh next Sunday in a match to decide the opponent of No. 1 Al-Shabab for the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup.

The new Ittihad coach, Mitso, once said that it would be easy sailing against Ahli especially after the final defeat against Hilal in the final of Crown Prince cup last week.

Mitso promised Ittihad victory and he made good his promise.

Muhammad Nur, the star of the match, opened Ittihad’s flurry of goals with a fine cross to striker Muhammad Kalon inside the penalty box who found no difficulty putting the ball in the back of the net in the 34th minute.

The goal whetted the Ittihad appetite so that four minutes later a second goal came courtesy of Prince Tago again from a fine pass by Nur inside the penalty box in front of the goalie.

In the second half, midfielder Manaf gave a nice inside cross to Nur who once again gave the third present to Ittihad and the second to Togo in front of the empty goal. The game could have ended 4-0 for Ittihad in the dying moments of the match were it not for a nice shot that went inches wide.

The result was a farce against a team that was disjointed all evening.

Ahli wasted enough chances in front of Ittihad goal and unnecessarily hogged the ball allowing the Ittihad sweepers to kill potential threats.

Gamba Edge Toward Breaking

Japan’s Asian Jinx

In Japan’s Gamba Osaka overpowered Chinese side Dalian Shide 3-0 at home to move closer to breaking the country’s Asian Champions League jinx yesterday.

No Japanese team has ever reached the quarterfinals of Asia’s premier club competition but Gamba look like ending that unhappy run after going top of Group E.

The J-League champions equaled the tournament record by demolishing Vietnam’s Da Nang 15-0 in their previous match and they were never troubled by Dalian at Expo Stadium.

Al-Hilal crushed Mashal of Uzbekistan 5-0 in a Group B in Riyadh and Shabab surprisingly was defeated by Al-Arabi of Kuwait in Kuwait 3-0 in a Group D encounter.

Japan midfielder Yasuhito Endo put Gamba in front from the penalty spot three minutes into the second half and two goals from Brazilian striker Magno Alves made the points safe.

Gamba are level with South Korean side Chonbuk Motors and Dalian on six points from three games but with a vastly superior goal difference.

Korean FA Cup winners Chonbuk beat Da Nang 3-0 at home in yesterday’s other Group E game. Six-time Uzbek champions Pakhtakor beat 10-man Foolad of Iran 2-0 to go top of Group A in the earliest of eight ties taking place in west Asia.

Pakhtakor climbed above Foolad with six points from three games. Foolad have four points. The top team from each of the seven groups will join defending champions Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia in the last eight.

The tournament winners will earn a place in December’s Club World Championship in Japan.

US Fail to Sparkle in Friendly

Draw With Jamaica

In Cary, North Carolina, a depleted US side played out a 1-1 friendly draw with Jamaica on Tuesday in a last chance for the American players to impress coach Bruce Arena before he announces his preliminary World Cup squad.

The match was played in the intimate setting of an SAS Stadium filled to its 8,093 capacity. Arena is set to name a 35-man preliminary pool of players on Wednesday before trimming the squad to 23 early next month for the tournament in Germany.

A largely experimental Jamaica side took a shock lead in the fourth minute through Teafore Bennett.

Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts threw the ball to Jermaine Hue who released Bennett down the left side and the striker rounded goalkeeper Tony Meola before slotting home from nine meters. The goal marked a poor start to the evening for Meola who was making his 100th international appearance and first since 2002 but the three-time World Cup veteran was barely tested after that. The US equalized in the 25th minute through Ben Olsen.

Landon Donovan’s quickly taken free kick found Olsen inside the penalty area and his low, left-foot shot deceived Ricketts on its way into the net.

Ricketts did well to parry a header by Chris Albright from a Donovan free kick in the 55th minute and Albright tested the keeper again in the 75th minute with a firm header.

Donovan was the one US midfielder to impress, New England Revolution teammates Pat Noonan, Steve Ralston and Taylor Twellman struggling throughout. Jamaica nearly grabbed a winner in the 84th minute when substitute Newton Sterling shot wide from 16 meters. The hosts’ best chance to seal victory came deep in stoppage time when a Donovan free kick was headed away.

— With input from agencies

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