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

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.

Fati delights, Jovic disappoints, optimism for Atletico

Updated 30 September 2020

Fati delights, Jovic disappoints, optimism for Atletico

  • Atletico scored 19 fewer goals than champions Real Madrid last season and 35 fewer than Barcelona

MADRID: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid will all be hoping to build on their first wins of the season as La Liga heads into its fourth round of games this week.

Here are the five talking points ahead of the midweek fixtures.

For the first time in a long time, Barcelona can enjoy some calm after a 4-0 win over Villarreal in their first match of the season on Sunday.

Lionel Messi scored on his first competitive appearance since attempting to leave in the summer but most exciting was the performance of the 17-year-old Ansu Fati, who scored twice and won a penalty.

Ronald Koeman must decide how to make the most of the teenager, whose maturity on the pitch belies his age and whose body might not be ready to start every week.

But Fati's pace, movement and decision-making are all so impressive it will be difficult to leave him out, as Barca look to build on that win at Celta Vigo on Thursday.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane switched to a 4-4-2 formation during his team's 3-2 win at Real Betis on Saturday as Luka Jovic was deployed up front alongside Karim Benzema.

But the Serbian striker failed to take his chance, instead enduring another underwhelming night before going off with 18 minutes to go.

It remains to be seen whether Zidane persists with Jovic at home to Real Valladolid on Wednesday, or at all, given Madrid could yet decide to let their €60 million (today $70 million) signing leave before the end of the transfer window.

When Eden Hazard regains fitness, that spot next to Benzema will belong to the Belgian so Jovic's window of opportunity may be small. Time would appear to be running out.

Atletico scored 19 fewer goals than champions Real Madrid last season and 35 fewer than Barcelona.

So hitting six against Granada on Sunday offered some early encouragement that this season's Atletico, boosted by the arrival of Luis Suarez in attack, can put those scoring problems behind them.

Suarez stole the show after scoring twice on his debut but Joao Felix was arguably the biggest plus for Diego Simeone, who will hope the 20-year-old's excellent display is the start of a more consistent campaign.

Atletico go up against newly promoted Huesca on Wednesday, the kind of game they slipped up in too often last season.

Even defeat by Real Madrid could not knock Real Betis off the top of the table, as Manuel Pellegrini's team enjoy the benefits of a strong start and more games played than the traditional powerhouses three weeks into the season.

But there is cause for optimism longer-term as Betis began with wins against Alaves and Real Valladolid, before matching Madrid for prolonged spells until their opponents pulled away in the second half.

With the likes of Nabil Fekir, Sergio Canales and Joaquin, this Betis squad has not lacked for attacking talent but solidity at the back has too often been an afterthought.

Villarreal face Alaves on Wednesday, with pressure already on both coaches. Villarreal have four points from their opening three games but a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Barcelona on Sunday, as well as a draw at home to newly-promoted Huesca means Unai Emery could do with a victory.

Alaves, meanwhile, are second bottom after managing just a point from their first three games, with Pablo Machin seeking a first win at la Ceramica.

Valencia have also made a stuttering start, a draw at home to Huesca on Saturday coming on the back of a surprise loss away at Celta Vigo.

New coach Javi Gracia has already expressed disappointment with the club's summer transfer dealings, meaning credit with the board may be lacking if results do not improve.