Al-Hilal show AFC Champions League potential with victory over Al-Duhail

Gomis was once again in fine form for Al-Hilal. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2019

Al-Hilal show AFC Champions League potential with victory over Al-Duhail

  • Riyadh giants make it two from two with victory over Qatar club.
  • Al-Hilal looking good to exit group stage having fallen at first hurdle last year.

RIYADH: Bafetimbi Gomis and Sebastian Giovinco starred as Riyadh giants Al-Hilal grabbed a 3-1 victory over Qatari champions Al-Duhail to take top spot in Group C of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday.
Al-Duhail’s new signing Shoya Nakajima’s 75th-minute strike had canceled out a first-half Carlos Eduardo goal, but Ali Al-Bulayhi put the hosts ahead again in the 77th minute, chesting the ball over the line from Italy international Giovinco’s corner at the King Saud University Stadium in Saudi Arabian capital.
Rui Faria’s men barely had time to regroup before former Lyon and Swansea City striker Gomis made it 3-1 in the 79th minute, rounding goalkeeper Amine Lecomte and firing into the roof of the net after a pass from Salem Al-Dawsari.
The win gave two-time champions Al-Hilal top spot in the group with six points, following their opening victory over the UAE’s Al-Ain 1-0 last week.
In Group D, Al-Sadd pipped Iran’s Persepolis 1-0 for their first victory with Baghdad Bounedjah scoring a dramatic winner five minutes into injury time.
Al-Sadd dominated proceedings but poor finishing let them down at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium before last year’s top scorer Bounedjah came to the hosts’ rescue.
The Algerian striker, who had a goal disallowed for offside earlier in the game, rose above the defense to nod home after Abdelkarim Hassan had headed the ball in his direction following a free-kick.
The victory helped 2011 champions Al-Sadd get back on track after they were beaten by Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli 2-0 in the opening week.
Al-Ahli, meanwhile fell to a 1-0 defeat by Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor in Tashkent, with Marat Bikmaev scoring the winner with a fine free-kick in the 62nd minute.
Pakhtakor took top spot in Group D with four points, having drawn their first match against Persepolis.
Iran’s Esteghlal and Al-Ain played out a 1-1 draw earlier on Tuesday.

Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

Updated 20 October 2020

Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

  • Barca have not won since 2015, but since then have never embarked on a new campaign amid so much disarray

MADRID: Despite managing to hang onto Lionel Messi, Barcelona begin its Champions League campaign with reduced expectations after one of their worst seasons in years.
The Catalan club appears to lack its confidence from previous seasons following an embarrassing elimination to Bayern Munich and a troubled off-season in which it nearly lost its talisman.

“Knowing what happened recently, we are not the top favorite,” coach Ronald Koeman said on Monday ahead of the team's debut in this season's competition against Hungarian club Ferencvaros. “But we are a team that can go far.”

Koeman arrived to put Barcelona back on track shortly after the 8-2 collapse against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, which capped their first season without a title since 2007-08.

“Barcelona always plays to win titles, in the league and in Europe, but there are other strong teams,” Koeman said.

Barcelona have not  won the Champions League since 2015, but since then they had never embarked on a new campaign in the competition amid so much disarray.

The club avoided losing Messi after he said he wanted to leave, but it continued to endure political turmoil and even financial difficulties. President Josep Bartomeu is facing a censure motion that could force him to leave his post before the end of the year.

Koeman was given the task of revamping the first team, and he quickly got rid of veterans such as Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic, but the club failed to bring in any of the players he wanted in the transfer window.

Koeman said Messi is fine despite scoring just once so far this season.

“Maybe his performance could be better, but I see him happy,” Koeman said. “I see him training well and focused. I have nothing to complain about him in that sense.”

He said “a bit of bad luck” has played a role in keeping the Argentina star from scoring more goals so far. Koeman also downplayed criticism of Antoine Griezmann for his recent poor performances, though he admitted that “everyone in the attack” can improve.

Barcelona opened the Spanish league with two convincing wins under Koeman, but then it drew 1-1 with Sevilla at home and lost 1-0 at Getafe on Saturday.

Hungarian champions Ferencvaros return to the Champions League for the first time since 1995. They needed to get through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stage.

The other Group G teams are Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv.

“We want to start with the right foot,” Koeman said. “We want to win the match and gain tranquility.”