Australia’s Duke heads Al-Taawoun into AFC knockouts

Al-Taawoun’s forward Mitchell Duke celebrates after scoring a goal during the AFC Champions League match against Al-Duhail. (AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2020

Australia’s Duke heads Al-Taawoun into AFC knockouts

DOHA: Australian striker Mitchell Duke shrugged off a head injury to put Saudi Arabia’s Al-Taawoun into the Asian Champions League knockouts with a 1-0 win over Qatar giants Al-Duhail.

Duke’s head was heavily bandaged after a clash with Al-Duhail’s Almoez Ali minutes earlier, but he recovered to nod the winner from a corner on 86 minutes.

Al-Taawoun’s second win over Al-Duhail in the coronavirus-hit tournament put them into the round of 16 for the first time as the visitors advanced due to their head-to-head record, with both teams on nine points after six games.

And on a night when all four Group C teams had a chance of reaching the last 16, Iran’s Persepolis thrashed UAE outfit Sharjah 4-0 to join Al-Taawoun in the knockouts.

Duke’s goal was the decisive act in a frenetic final 10 minutes at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, Qatar, a venue for the 2022 World Cup.

The Aussie clashed heads with Ali following a corner but he was back in the action after a few minutes of treatment on the ground.

Al-Duhail’s Ismail Mohamed almost found the mark but his chip was cleared off the line by substitute Saad Yaslam with the goalkeeper beaten.

Duke was then on hand to seal Al-Taawoun’s last-16 spot as he planted a firm header past Al Duhail goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Bakri from Sultan Mandash’s corner.

Persepolis had an easier ride at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium as they scored three in the first half to ease past Sharjah.

Shojae Khalilzadeh nodded the Iranians in front in the second minute, and Isa Alekasir and Vahid Amiri also scored with headers just before halftime. Mehdi Qara completed the scoring with Persepolis’s fourth headed goal in second half injury time.

Earlier, Qatar’s Al-Sadd and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nassr both lost their final group games against already eliminated rivals.

Al-Sadd were shocked 2-1 by Iran’s Sepahan, while Al Nassr went down 1-0 to former champions Al Ain.

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.”