Al-Hilal get AFC Champions League campaign off to winning start at Al-Ain as Al-Ahli shock Al-Saad

The Riyadh giants celebrate the 1-0 win over UAE powerhouses Al-AIn. (Al-Hilal)
Updated 05 March 2019

Al-Hilal get AFC Champions League campaign off to winning start at Al-Ain as Al-Ahli shock Al-Saad

  • Riyadh giants impress in the UAE to get campaign off to great start.
  • Al-Ahli shock Qatar club Al-Saad as Al-Somah bags a brace.

LONDON: Mohammad Al-Shalhoub was the unlikely hero as Al-Hilal got their AFC Champions League campaign off to a winning start with a 1-0 victory at Al-Ain.
The Group C clash pitted two of the heavyweights of Middle East football against each other with Al-Hilal desperate to get their continental campaign off to a good start, having exited at the group stage this time last year.
But there was to be no early slip-up this time as the Riyadh giants snatched a well-earned win thanks to veteran Al-Shalhoub’s 65th-minute strike.
Al-Hilal were on top for most of the match and the pressure finally told when the club captain got on the end of a Mohamed Al-Buraik cross to fire into the top corner and give the visitors an advantage they would not relinquish.
Al-Ain’s woes were compounded in the final minute as captain Ismail Ahmed was shown the red card — a moment that summed up a miserable night for the UAE champions.
From the start Al-Hilal looked the brighter and more energetic and nearly grabbed the lead as early as the third minute when Carlos Eduardo pounced on a loose ball inside the box, forcing Khaled Eisa into making a good save.
Al-Ain’s one chance of the first-half came from a set piece with Japanese international Tsukasa Shiotani's free-kick narrowly off target in the fifth minute.
It was the Saudi Arabian champions who dominated possession and they finally made the pressure tell when Al-Shalhoub got the winner to ease Al-Hilal nerves.
There was little doubting the win came as a relief to a side still haunted by the calamitous campaign last year.
“A key win in the ACL race: 3 points in the bag. (It was a) good performance of the team in Al-Ain,” French striker Bafetimbi Gomis tweeted.
Elsewhere, Al-Ahli recorded a shock 2-0 win over Qatar’s Al-Saad. A brace from Omar Al-Somah was enough to beat the Qatar side who reached the Westside final last year
The Syrian striker was on fire and once again proved that when on form there are few in Asia that can match him in front of goal.


Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

Updated 20 October 2020

Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

  • Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League

LONDON: Pep Guardiola starts his latest bid to lead Manchester City to Champions League glory with the shadows of past failures casting doubt on his ability to secure that elusive title.

City host Porto in their opening Champions League group match on Wednesday with Guardiola's failing in the tournament weighing heavily on both the Spanish boss and his club.

Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League and Guardiola has found the competition equally vexing for much of the last decade.

Since he won the Champions League as Barcelona boss for the second time in 2011, Guardiola has failed to return to the final of Europe's elite club competition.

That nine-year drought includes four years of frustration since he took charge at City in 2016.

In that time, Guardiola has seen City beaten by Monaco in the last 16 and Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon in the quarterfinals.

He also lost in three semifinals during his time as Bayern Munich manager before moving to City.

Last season's shock 3-1 defeat against Lyon in Lisbon was especially galling as City were heavy favorites against the French side.

Guardiola deserved a large portion of the blame for that letdown after his tactical tinkering appeared to unsettle his players and did nothing to tilt the tie in City's favor.

Interpreted by Guardiola's critics as further proof that his Champions League success at Barcelona was due to the presence of the great Lionel Messi's presence, the only bright side of the Lyon loss was that it was not their farewell to Europe for a while.

For several months last season, it appeared City would not even be competing in the Champions League this term after UEFA gave them a two-year ban from European competitions for Financial Fairplay breaches.

City's legal dream team won that battle and the suspension was eventually thrown out on appeal.

Whether Guardiola can be as successful in Europe as City's Abu Dhabi-based owners were in the court room remains far from certain.

Adding to the unease around City ahead of their European campaign is the unresolved issue of Guardiola's future.

Guardiola is out of contract at the end of the season and has yet to agree on a new deal amid speculation that he may decide to leave the Etihad Stadium in 2021.

For now, Guardiola will focus on Porto's visit to Manchester rather than entertaining questions about his long-term plans.

The 49-year-old insists he has to earn a prolonged stay at City by improving on last season's disappointment, which saw them surrender the Premier League to Liverpool and win only the League Cup.

There have been some worrying signs already as Leicester thrashed City 5-2, while Saturday's 1-0 win against Arsenal was far from convincing.

Significantly, Guardiola was able to welcome back Sergio Aguero last weekend as City's record goalscorer made his first appearance for four months after knee surgery.

City have lacked a cutting edge in Aguero's absence and Guardiola's hopes of a serious Champions League challenge hinge on the Argentine striker staying fit.

"The important thing is that Sergio comes back in good physical condition, starts to get his rhythm, doesn't get more injuries and plays good," Guardiola said.

"We know what he means for us, we know how we appreciate him, but now he has to show like every one of us, me first, that we deserve to continue here and playing good and winning games."