Al-Nassr defeat Al-Ahli in all-Saudi Champions League clash to edge closer to glory

Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr defeated compatriots Al-Ahli Saudi 2-0 to move into the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 30 September 2020

Al-Nassr defeat Al-Ahli in all-Saudi Champions League clash to edge closer to glory

  • Al-Nassr will take on either Esteghlal of Iran or Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor on Saturday

LONDON: Pity Martinez paid back a hefty slice of his $18 million fee on Wednesday by helping Al-Nassr FC defeat Al-Ahli Saudi 2-0 to move into the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League.

A first-half strike from the Argentina international, who joined earlier this month from MLS team Atlanta United, put Al-Nassr on top early. Abdulfattah Asiri added a second ten minutes after the restart to give the team from Riyadh a deserved win and a place in the last four of Asia’s premier club competition for the first time in the club’s history. 

Al-Nassr will take on either Esteghlal of Iran or Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor on Saturday with a place in the final, scheduled against a team from East Asia on Dec. 19, at stake.

A smart exchange of passes with Khalid Al-Ghannam released Martinez just inside the area and the 2018 South American Player of the Year skipped past a defender to make room and fire a low shot past Mohammed Al-Owais.

The game, taking place in the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, should have been over as a contest by the break. Just before the half-hour, Abderrazak Hamdallah somehow managed to head wide from close range. The in-form Moroccan marksman, aiming to make history and become the first player to score in 10 consecutive Champions League games, went close once again seconds later, pulling his shot from the right side of the area just wide of the post.

Al-Ahli, who finished third in the Saudi Pro League, were unable to make the league’s runners-up regret their wastefulness as Al-Nassr extended their lead ten minutes into the second half. Sultan Al-Ghanam’s low cross from the right found Asiri in the area and the midfielder wriggled free to create space, lashing the ball into the net from close range.

The closest Al-Ahli came to getting on the scoresheet was in the last minute as Omar Al-Somah’s shot hit the woodwork, and Hamdallah then missed another chance to make Champions League history as his effort was cleared off the line with goalkeeper former Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Jones beaten.

Al-Nassr now have three days to prepare for one of the biggest games in the club’s history, but coach Rui Vitoria is looking forward to the challenge.

“We did what we had to do today,” the Portuguese tactician said. “We knew it would be a tough game, and it was, but we defended well and looked dangerous going forward as we made a number of chances.

“We have had a lot of games in a short period of time and now we have to think about a big game coming up. We do not mind which team we face as all teams who make it this far are strong. We will be ready.”

The defeat leaves Al-Ahli, who reached the final of the 2012 competition, able to focus fully on the new Saudi Pro League season as the schedule for the opening rounds was released on Tuesday. 

Al-Ahli are in action on Oct. 18, a day after the season starts, and host Al-Wehda. Al-Nassr start their campaign against Al-Fateh. Champions Al-Hilal kick-off the day before against newly promoted Al-Ain.


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."