Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Red Bull drama, Vettel's farewell and the battle for second

Analysis Red Bull’s Verstappen ultimately won his first world title in somewhat controversial fashion last year in Abu Dhabi. (AFP/File Photo)
Red Bull’s Verstappen ultimately won his first world title in somewhat controversial fashion last year in Abu Dhabi. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 18 November 2022

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Red Bull drama, Vettel's farewell and the battle for second

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Red Bull drama, Vettel's farewell and the battle for second
  • Drivers return to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit for the finale of the 2022 campaign

ABU DHABI: Nearly 12 months on from that dramatic finish to the 2021 Formula One championship battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, the drivers return to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit for the finale of the 2022 campaign, albeit in very different circumstances.

This time last year, Verstappen and Hamilton arrived at the UAE capital on equal points in the championship with one race to go.

Red Bull’s Verstappen ultimately won his first world title in somewhat controversial fashion, in an eventful Grand Prix that saw race director Michael Masi make a debatable call that resulted in Verstappen pip Hamilton in a one-lap shootout.

“I don’t really think a lot about it. So I don’t really have many thoughts on the last race here,” said seven-time world champion Hamilton on Thursday.

“I’m not necessarily focused on stuff that’s behind me and I’m also trying to, not control, but trying to be the best I can moving forward, the days ahead.”

This year, Verstappen defended his championship crown, securing his second successive title with four races to spare.

Despite the championship already decided, there is still plenty to look forward to this F1 weekend in Abu Dhabi, and lots to unpack from a busy media day at Yas Marina Circuit.

Max hits out at ‘sickening’ abuse

While we’re used to seeing drama between Red Bull and Mercedes, this time, recent drama has been within the Red Bull camp after Verstappen refused to adhere to team orders in Brazil last weekend.

With Sergio Perez fighting Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for second place in the championship, Red Bull asked Verstappen to let his Mexican team-mate pass him at Interlagos – a request Verstappen was not willing to fulfill.

The Dutchman said he had his reasons, which were discussed internally within the team, and he hit out at F1 fans on social media, as well as members of the press, for criticizing his decision not to let Perez through without knowing the full facts; facts he remains unwilling to disclose publicly.

“After that race of course a I looked very bad in the media. But also they didn't have the clear picture,” Verstappen told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

“To immediately put me down like that is pretty ridiculous to be honest. Because they don’t know how I work within the team and what the team appreciates about me. So all the things I have read are pretty disgusting.

“Even more than that, they started attacking my family, they were threatening my sister, my mum, my girlfriend, my dad. And for me that goes way too far while you don't even have the facts of what is going on. And that definitely has to stop.

“If you have a problem with me, that's fine, but don't go after my family because that is unacceptable.”

He added: “As soon as there is something negative it needs to be highlighted, it is pretty sickening being part of that.”

Checo denies Monaco wrongdoing

Verstappen acknowledges that “in hindsight” discussions within the team about possible orders to support Perez’s bid for P2 should have happened earlier and they come to Abu Dhabi with a better understanding of everyone’s position.

“I have never been a bad teammate to anyone, I have always been very helpful and the team knows that. I always put the team up front because at the end of the day it is a team effort. What we learned from that is that we have to be a little more open and we just have to communicate better to each other.”

Meanwhile, Perez believes things are back on track within the Red Bull camp and is confident he can count on his teammate’s help should he need him this weekend.

“I think we are both grown-ups and we’ll be able to put this behind us and we’ll move forward,” Perez said on Thursday.

There has been speculation that Verstappen’s grievance is related to the race from Monaco earlier this season, and there are rumors that Perez crashed on purpose during qualifying, an incident that prevented his teammate from completing his lap.

Perez denies any suggestion that he deliberately crashed, saying the “rumors are wrong”.

“Everyone makes mistakes in Monaco, in general places in qualifying. And it's not like it was done on purpose,” he added.

Red Bull have never finished a championship with their drivers ranked one and two and Verstappen says, “if we could achieve that, that would be amazing. For sure if the opportunity is there to help, as a team we’re going to do that.”

Leclerc hopes to finish on a high

Ferrari’s Leclerc is coming off a fourth-place finish in Brazil and comes to Abu Dhabi on level points with Perez, although he is ahead of him in the drivers’ standings due to his favorable race-win tally.

The Monegasque admits things have been up and down for him the last few races but is keen to secure P2 with a strong finale at Yas Marina.

“Brazil has been good but unfortunately because of our first-lap incident, it was all about coming back to the front, but the pace was there,” said the 25-year-old.

“I hope we’ll be strong enough to fight for the top positions. Obviously we are fighting for second place in the drivers’ championship and also second place in the constructors’ championship, and after going through very tough years in 2020 and 2021, it would be good to be back fighting at the top.

“Even though our goal is to fight for the championship eventually, after these two difficult years, it would be good to be second.”

Emotional goodbyes

The sport will get ready to bid farewell to one of its biggest icons in Sebastian Vettel, as the German four-time world champion prepares for the last race of his F1 career this weekend.

Tributes have been pouring in for Vettel since he announced in July this would be his last season in Formula One and drivers are getting ready to swap helmets with the Aston Martin ace one last time.

Two-time world champion and Vettel’s long-time rival Fernando Alonso posted a heartfelt message on his Instagram, wishing the German good luck for what’s to come and revealed a special helmet design he will be wearing in Vettel’s honor this weekend in Abu Dhabi.

The helmet features the German flag stripe Vettel has raced with since 2015 and the words, ‘Danke Seb’ on either side.

See you later, not goodbye for Ricciardo

Fan favorite Daniel Ricciardo is out of a seat for next season in F1 but the Australian hopes he will still be in the paddock in some shape or form in 2023.

“Mentally I’m not treating it like it’s going to be my last ever race. It could be. I know nothing is guaranteed in the future. So I’m just going out to enjoy it, I’m not going to get too emotional about it, about the thought if it is the last one or not,” said Ricciardo, who is being replaced by Oscar Piastri at McLaren next year.

“I’m going to enjoy it and take it for what it is. I got a grid penalty, I only go better when I have penalties. I actually asked for a five-place penalty but three will do it, so there we go,” laughed Ricciardo, who collided with Kevin Magnussen in Brazil last weekend.

Speaking of his future, the ‘Honey Badger’ said: “Nothing is confirmed. But progress has been made. Hopefully you can see my good looks again next year, to some degree.”

‘Mick will get another shot’

Also leaving the paddock after this final race of the season in Abu Dhabi is Mick Schumacher, who just received the news he won’t be driving for Haas next year and is being replaced by Nico Hulkenberg.

Schumacher posted a message on his Instagram after the announcement was made, saying he’ll fight hard to return to the F1 grid, and he signed off with the letters, ‘PTW’ – meaning “prove them wrong”.

“PTW, it’s been pretty much what I’ve been saying most part of this year,” explained Schumacher. 

“I just felt like saying that because I think I want to prove everybody wrong who doesn’t believe in me because I know what I can do. I’ve proven that in the junior categories and I see no reason why I can’t do that in Formula One.”

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon is certain Schumacher will get another shot at rejoining the pinnacle of motorsport.

“I believe he will obviously work hard with his team to come back,” said the French driver of the 23-year-old Schumacher.

“I’ve been out of the sport and I know how it feels after two years to go out. But the hard work, the dedication, just being here each time there was a car that started, that’s the thing that brought me back to the sport and I’m sure he’ll have a shot again and I wish him the best.”

Russell keen to keep momentum going

Mercedes’ George Russell is still on a high after clinching a maiden race victory last week in Brazil but the Brit is keeping his feet on the ground and is holding off on celebrations until Sunday night in the UAE capital.

“I’m just very proud of the achievement. It’s something I’ve worked my whole life towards and what you dream of as a child,” said Russell.

“For sure confidence is high and the morale within the team is booming but I don’t suddenly feel transformed overnight.

“I feel we’ll be going for it [this weekend in Abu Dhabi]. I think since Austin the car has been performing really well, probably better than we could have ever hoped for.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Drivers get ready for new teammates

After two years together with Alpine, Ocon and Alonso will part ways with the latter taking Vettel’s spot at Aston Martin next season, and Pierre Gasly forming an all-French line-up alongside Ocon.

Despite some tension between Ocon and Alonso due to a dramatic last weekend in Brazil, the Frenchman had nothing but positive things to say about the departing two-time world champion.

“I think we can be happy with what we’ve done over the last two years with Fernando, in trying to get that team further up, and we’ve done so,” said Ocon.

“In 2021, through the year we really stepped up and gave, at times, 125 percent of what the car was capable of doing and we really delivered on a lot of occasions. And this year, we created that fourth place together, it’s not finished yet.

“I don’t know how you say it in English, “il ne faut jamais vendre la peau de l'ours avant de l'avoir tué” (don’t try to sell the bear’s skin before actually killing it). I think we can be happy with what we created and I’m sure that’s going to leave a good legacy for what’s coming next.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Magnussen has mixed feelings about Schumacher’s Haas exit, and the impending arrival of Hulkenberg.

“It’s a double-sided thing, because on one hand it’s exciting getting someone like Nico in, with all his experience and capabilities. And on the other hand I feel bad for Mick because I know how that feels, I’ve been in that situation myself. I think he’s done a good job this year. I like him as a person as well, I think it’s easy to feel bad for him,” said the Dane, who scored an incredible pole position for Haas in Brazil last week.

“F1 is tough but it’s also possible to make it back; I’ve done that twice. I hope he can keep fighting and try to make it back on the grid.”


Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf
Updated 05 February 2023

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf
  • No shortage of top talent throughout the Middle East swing beginning with Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Women’s professional tennis will take over the Gulf region this month with the world’s best players set to compete in tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai over the course of the next three weeks.

From world No.1 Iga Swiatek, to Tunisian trailblazer Ons Jabeur, to the recently-crowned Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, there will be no shortage of top talent throughout this Middle East swing.

Here’s a look at some of the main storylines heading into this exciting three-week stretch.

Abu Dhabi enters the ring

While this isn’t the first time the UAE capital is hosting a WTA tournament, it’s the first time the emirate has been given a permanent slot on the women’s tennis calendar.

Abu Dhabi came to the rescue at the start of the 2021 season when the tour needed a place that could stage an event during the pandemic.

A one-year license was given to Abu Dhabi and the tournament was held behind closed doors.

Things are different this time around. The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open is meant to be a regular fixture on the WTA calendar and its introduction this season (from February 5-12) has made way for a three-week Middle East swing set to take place in February every year.

Jabeur was meant to be the main star attraction this week in the UAE capital, given her popularity in the region as the highest-ranked Arab player in history. The Tunisian was forced to withdraw though due to a knee injury but her name is still on the entry lists for Doha and Dubai.

A stellar week of tennis is still guaranteed in Abu Dhabi with three top-10 players – Daria Kasatkina, Belinda Bencic and Elena Rybakina – headlining a strong field at the inaugural WTA 500 event at Zayed Sports City.

Popcorn first rounds in the capital

The stacked draw in Abu Dhabi has resulted in some incredible match-ups from the get-go.

In a showdown between two ex-world No.1s, Spanish wildcard Garbine Muguruza will take on Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova in the opening round. The winner of this clash will square off against reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina.

Former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko will commence her campaign against 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, while former world No.2 Paula Badosa kicks off her Abu Dhabi journey against Russian world No.19 Liudmila Samsonova.

Sabalenka on a streak

With an 11-0 win-loss record for the season, and two titles under her belt, including a maiden Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open, Sabalenka will have all eyes on her when she touches down in the Middle East to take part in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (begins February 19).

The Belarusian world No.2 has tasted success in the Gulf in the past, having lifted trophies in Abu Dhabi in 2021 and in Doha in 2020, but will be seeking a maiden triumph in Dubai.

Swiatek back to defend Doha title

The Qatar Open was where Swiatek began her incredible 37-match winning streak last year and the top-ranked Pole will make a return to the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, searching for a first title of the season.

Swiatek’s banner 2022 saw her capture eight titles, including two Grand Slams, but her 2023 campaign has yet to gather steam as she lost with Poland in the United Cup semi-finals in Australia last month, before falling to Rybakina in the Australian Open fourth round.

Swiatek is also scheduled to compete in the WTA 1000 tournament in Dubai, where all members of the world’s top-10 – and 19 of the world’s top-20 – are down to take part.

Ostapenko searches for Dubai repeat

A stellar effort from Ostapenko saw her grab the title in Dubai last year with victory over Veronika Kudermetova in the final, a win that allowed the Latvian to return to the top-20 for the first time since October 2018.

Ostapenko defeated four fellow Grand Slam champions en route to the 2022 Dubai crown – Sofia Kenin, Swiatek, Petra Kvitova, and Simona Halep – and she came back from a set down in three of those encounters.

She will be looking to become the first back-to-back women’s champion in Dubai since Elina Svitolina pulled off a double in 2017 and 2018.

The fiery French Open winner has a positive start to her 2023, reaching the quarter-finals at the Australian Open last month.

Mirza all set for career finale

Indian tennis icon Sania Mirza will contest the last two tournaments of her professional career in Abu Dhabi, alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Dubai, alongside Madison Keys.

A former doubles world No.1, who peaked at 27 in the world in singles back in 2007, Mirza will bid farewell to the tour after a trailblazing 20-year professional career.

The 36-year-old initially intended to retire from tennis at the end of last season but an elbow injury ruled her out of the US Open and ended her 2022 prematurely.

A six-time major champion across doubles and mixed doubles, Mirza almost added a seventh Grand Slam trophy to her resume last month when she reached the mixed doubles final at the Australian Open alongside her compatriot Rohan Bopanna.

Mirza, who is a Dubai resident, will say her final goodbye at the DDF Tennis Championships, where thousands of her adoring fans will undoubtedly show up for her swan song.


Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup
Updated 04 February 2023

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup
  • Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd
  • He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year

TANGIER, Morocco: Mohammed Afsha scored on a deflected shot in the 88th minute and sent Al-Ahly into the Club World Cup semifinals by beating the Seattle Sounders 1-0 on Saturday.
Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd. He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year, and brought an abrupt end to the first appearance by a team from the United States in the competition.
His initial shot from outside the penalty area hit the crossbar. Seattle were unable to clear the danger and Afsha’s second attempt deflected off defender Alex Roldan and bounded past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
It was the only shot on target by the Egyptian club as both sides played a heavily defensive game where chances at goal were limited.
Al-Ahly will face Real Madrid in the semifinals next Wednesday in Rabat. Al-Ahly have not lost a match in any competition since Aug. 27 in the Egyptian Premier League.
Al-Ahly have finished third in each of the past two Club World Cups but have never made the final.
Seattle were the first club from Major League Soccer to take part in the Club World Cup after winning the CONCACAF Champions League last May. The Sounders carried hopes of advancing through their first match and playing at least three matches at the event.
But while Seattle were excellent defensively, they lacked quality chances on attack. Seattle finished with just one shot on goal, a speculative attempt from defensive midfielder Josh Atencio early in the second half.
“I thought we were good. I thought we were evenly matched. A couple of chances. But the deflection on the goal, it’s unfortunate,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Seattle were playing their first competitive match in 3 ½ months while the rest of MLS was going through preseason preparations. The Sounders’ previous match was last October and the team gathered for MLS preseason camp in early January.
“They put everything into the game. They put everything into preseason,” Schmetzer said.


Ancer leading the charge to glory in PIF Saudi International

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day
Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day
Updated 04 February 2023

Ancer leading the charge to glory in PIF Saudi International

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day

JEDDAH: Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day after following up a 63 and 66 with a flawless third round 64, progressing to 17-under-par and two shots clear of Cameron Young, who sits third place at five shots back.

Ancer, bidding to be the first player to win the Saudi tournament wire to wire, looked unstoppable at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club as he posted another bogey-free round with six birdies spread equally across the front and back nine.

“Another very solid round. Happy with no dropped shots. That’s always my goal. On a golf course like this where it’s blowing pretty good, I’m really, really happy,” he said.

“My ball striking has definitely been on, and I’ve been rolling it really nice all week. Extremely happy. Not really focused on what everybody else is doing. Just trying to play the same game I’ve been playing the past three days,” he added.

Young has now posted three straight rounds of five-under-par 65’s, enough to take sole place of second, two shots back.

“I think I’ve played really solidly,” he said. “Obviously, Abe’s playing some really nice golf. So, I think tomorrow will be fun. If the wind is similar to today, it will probably take a 62, 63 or 64 because I don’t see Abraham shooting anything bad.”

Making his intentions clear, Young ended with “I’ll hit a lot of drivers and try to make a bunch of birdies.”

A fascinating two horse race is set for Sunday between a pair who have completely contrasting styles, which was so clearly evident on the par-five 18th today.

Ancer laid up to about 100 yards but nailed his approach to five feet and holed out, while Young airmailed the green with his second shot, using an iron, but was only able to make par.

Young is a further five shots ahead of third place, where American Matthew Wolff (63), Australian Lucas Herbert (67), and Thailand’s Sadom Kaewkanjana (68) all sit.

American Matthew Wolff made the most of moving day matching Ancer’s tournament low from round one of a 7-under-par 63, set up by a front nine six-under-par 29.

Following the round, the 23-year-old said: “It felt easy. It felt like I'm finally starting to hit my driver the way I'm looking to. It's such a weapon on this golf course when I'm hitting it where I want to. I'm having short clubs in and I can kind of attack these flags. I felt really good with every part of my game.”

He continued: “But I think it was the putting. I made quite a few putts out there today and didn't the first couple of days. I think that was definitely the difference. It seemed like it all came together nicely for me today.”

Jason Kokrak sits a further shot back alone in sixth, followed by Mito Pererira, Paul Casey, and Marc Leishman.


Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form
Updated 04 February 2023

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form
  • The Reds have taken just one point from their last four Premier League games to all
  • "Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable," said Klopp

WOLVERHAMPTON, United Kingdom: Jurgen Klopp branded the goals Liverpool conceded in a 3-0 defeat to Wolves as “horrible” with the German admitting to being at a loss to explain his side’s disastrous form.
The Reds have taken just one point from their last four Premier League games to all but end any hope of catching the top four for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Klopp’s men trailed 2-0 inside 12 minutes at Molineux as Joel Matip’s own goal and Craig Dawson’s strike on his debut put Wolves on course to climb out of the relegation zone.
Ruben Neves added a third 19 minutes from time after Liverpool had dominated the early stages of the second half without reward.
“Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable,” said Klopp.
“When you see the whole game, throughout the game in moments we played an outstanding game without scoring and a good away game without scoring.
“The third goal I don’t count because it was the first time they passed the halfway line in the second half. The other two goals, going into a game with all the things we said during the week and before the game, then this is the start, is horrible.”
Already out of both domestic cups, Liverpool sit 10th in the Premier League.
The Champions League appears to be their last chance of salvaging their season with a last 16 tie against Real Madrid to come later this month in a repeat of last season’s final.
Klopp’s side came close to winning an unprecedented quadruple of trophies last season.
But he appears incapable of stopping the rot as for the third consecutive away league game, Liverpool conceded three times.
“We better change it. That’s true, 100 percent. I have no words for it really, I’m sorry,” he added.
“You do yourself no favors in these moments, giving easy balls away.
“We were passive in the (first) two goals, everything we wanted to do was be compact and active but we were compact and passive. I can’t explain it. I think why would you do that? But they did it anyway.”


Al-Hilal beat Wydad to reach FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals

Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better
Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better
Updated 04 February 2023

Al-Hilal beat Wydad to reach FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals

Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better
  • The 5-3 penalty shootout win after 1-1 draw means the Saudi giants will now face Brazil’s Flamengo on Tuesday

RABAT: The drums rang loud for Morocco's Wydad AC on a sunny and dramatic Saturday afternoon in Rabat at the FIFA Club World Cup, but they were ultimately silenced by Al-Hilal’s Musab Al-Juwayr.

The teenage midfielder scored the final kick to win a  penalty shootout 5-3 for the Saudi Arabian giants after the game had ended 1-1. The Asian champions go through at the expense of their African counterparts to the  semi-finals and a clash with Brazil’s Flamengo. It should be quite a match if this was anything to go by.

Two hours of action packed football ended 1-1 but there was much more to it than that. A header early in the second half from Wydad's Ayoub Emloud had fans in the North African country as excited as they were during the 2022 World Cup, when Morocco reached the semi-final and became the toast of Qatar.

Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better.

One of the few times the home crowd were silenced came in added time as Yahya Jabrane, captain of the African champions, was sent off for protesting at a penalty. Mohamed Kanno fired home the resultant spot kick to send the game into extra-time during which he was also dismissed by the referee.

It was then penalties and Al-Hilal scored all theirs, while Wydad missed one.

For a long time however, it look as if the 18-time Saudi champions were going home in a clash that kept the 45,000 capacity crowd at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium entertained. The arena may be in Rabat but it certainly felt and, more importantly, sounded like a home match in Casablanca for the Moroccan powerhouse. The red wall behind the goals rarely stopped bouncing and singing to roar the team in white forward.

It seemed to work as Wydad started brightly in the opening exchanges and looked dangerous especially from set pieces with Yahya Jabrane firing over from a free-kick. 

Indeed, the pressure seemed to have paid off after 19 minutes when they thought they had taken the lead as Jalal Daoudi swept the ball home from close range. The veteran midfielder was, however, correctly adjudged to have been offside from the assistant referee.

Al-Hilal’s first real attempt on goal came after 23 minutes but Nasser Al-Dawsari sent a free-kick from a dangerous position well over the bar.

As the half progressed, Al-Hilal got into the game more though the home team continued to have better chances such as the attempt on the stroke of half-time. Wydad’s new Cameroonian forward Didier Lamkel Ze sent over a fine cross from the left but Ayoub El-Amloud was unable to get enough on it and the defender’s glancing header went wide.

Al-Hilal came close right after the restart. A Salem Al-Dawsari corner from the right fell to Ali Al-Buhali and his snap shot from close range was cleared off the line by Lamkel Ze.

In the 51st minute, Wydad’s eighth corner kick made the difference as El-Amloud rose at the far post to send a powerful header past Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

The Asian champions sprung into action but struggled to turn pressure into chances, though they came close with 20 minutes remaining when Odion Ighalo’s shot from close range was well-saved by Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti and Salem Al-Dawsari’s follow-up was blocked on the line by Amine Farhane.

Al-Hilal, who have never progressed past the semi-finals at this tournament, pushed forward in search of an equaliser and the chance came at the end of normal time as they were awarded a penalty thanks to a handball in the area. Wydad’s captain Jabrane was booked twice in quick succession and was sent off.

Amid the furore, Kanno kept his cool to slot the ball straight down the middle and suddenly the impetus had swung in favor of the Asian champions and Luciano Vietto almost won the game in the eighth minute of injury time as the Argentine’s free-kick was pushed away by the goalkeeper. 

The Riyadh giants could not get the winner before extra-time and when the game restarted they were soon reduced to 10 men themselves as Kanno was given a second yellow card for a foul.

And then it was five penalties each. After Moussa Marega scored the opener for Al-Hilal, Yahia Attiyat Allah’s shot hit both posts but did not go in and Wydad were in trouble. Vietto,  Saleh Al-Shehri and then Abdullah Al-Hamdan scored for the Riyadh club to leave substitute Al-Jawary to deliver the glory and a ticket to the last four.