London: Thanks to a straightforward 2-0 victory over Iran’s Tractor Sazi, Al-Ahli progressed to the second round of the AFC Champions League a game of the group stage to spare. Here is why the Jeddah outfit succeeded in their march to the knockout stage.
In a team that has qualified with just seven goals, Muhannad Assiri’s chipping in with three in three games helped a lot. His third came after 49 minutes against Tractor Sazi, the team’s first shot on goal. Al-Ahli do not create may chances but, thanks to Assiri, they have converted well and not missed the injured Omar Al-Somah.
The perfect group
Compared with Al-Hilal’s failed campaign, this was an easier affair. Qatar’s Al-Gharafa finished fifth in their league last season, Tractor Sazi are not at the same level as Iranian giants Esteghlal, while Al-Jazira do not have anything like the continental pedigree of fellow UAE outfit Al-Ain.
Thinking outside the box
Received football wisdom says you do not rotate goalkeepers, but coach Sergei Rebrov has ignored that rule. Yasser Al-Mosailem has played every minute in the Champions League, while Mohammed Al-Owais has started in domestic matches. Al-Mosailem has been excellent and made Rebrov look like a coaching genius.
Al-Ahli work hard with and without the ball — just three goals conceded tells its own story. Crucial to the gameplan was Claudemir. The defensive midfielder sat in front of the back four, broke down opposition attacks and launched forward forays for the team. The Brazilian did not put a foot wrong and was a key factor behind qualification.
Strength in depth
It was not just the goalkeepers who were rotated. Among those sitting on the bench during the group games were Australia international Mark Milligan, former Greece international Ioannis Fetfatzidis, and Saudi Arabia stalwarts Motaz Hawsawi and Housain Al-Mogahwi. The coach can rest, rotate and replace in the knowledge that the squad can handle the task of challenging on both domestic and continental fronts.