RIYADH: Al-Shabab not only lost their Asian Champions League quarter-final 2-1 to Al-Duhail of Qatar on Thursday, but the Riyadh side will be hoping their Roshn Saudi League title prospects have not also taken a tumble after star striker Carlos Carvalho was carried off during the game.
Two late goals from Michael Olunga settled a hard-fought game at Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha but the potential loss of their Brazilian goal-getter might prove to be a bigger blow for Al-Shabab.
Carlos was stretchered off early in the second half and while it remains to be seen how serious the injury is, it looked bad enough to raise questions about how much of the remaining domestic league season he might miss.
With almost two-thirds of the campaign over, Al-Shabab sit level with Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad at the top of the league on 40 points. Coach Vicente Moreno will therefore want the Brazilian star, the league’s second-top scorer with 12 goals, back on the field as soon as possible.
Carlos had chances to find the net in the first half, as did Al-Duhail’s star goal-getter Olunga. After 12 minutes, the usually prolific Kenyan uncharacteristically shot wide from the edge of the six-yard box from a fine cross delivered by Edmilson Junior.
Three minutes later, Al-Shabab had an even better chance to take the lead. Finding plenty of space behind Al-Duhail’s defence, Fawaz Al-Saqour’s through pass released Carlos in the right side of the area, with just the goalkeeper to beat. But Salah Zakaria stood firm and got a hand to the low shot, sending the ball out for a corner.
Zakaria’s opposite number, Kim Seung-gyu, was also kept busy, saving well from South Korean compatriot Nam Tae-hee and from Olunga.
In the final minute of the first half, Al-Shabab could not believe they were denied when Carlos flicked a whipped, low cross from left-back Moteb Al-Harbi toward the goal from close range, only for Zakaria somehow to save once again.
Eight minutes into the second half, Carlos was carried off. The striker had stretched for a cross in the penalty area and his standing foot seemed to twist in the ground. It was immediately clear he was in a great deal of pain and would play no further part in the game.
Both teams continued to push forward and, just after the hour mark, Al-Shabab’s Fahad Al-Muwallad headed just over the bar. Minutes later he stretched at the far post to connect to a dangerous Ever Banega cross but was unable to direct the ball toward goal.
As the clock ticked down, there were signs of nerves from both teams, neither of which has lifted the ACL trophy before. Al-Duhail’s only previous appearance in the last eight was in 2015 when their run was ended by Al-Hilal, a potential opponent in Sunday’s semi-final.
With the tie so delicately poised, the first goal was always going to be crucial and it was the Qataris who broke the deadlock, in the 77th minute. Kim acrobatically saved a header to send the ball behind but from the resultant Nam set piece, the goalkeeper could do nothing as Olunga powered a header into the bottom corner.
With five minutes remaining Olunga added a second, firing home from inside the area after some fine work from Ismaeel Mohammed.
This late turn of events was harsh on Al-Shabab and, despite a late consolation goal in stoppage time from Saeed Al-Rubaie, there was no coming back. Fans will now be focusing on how quickly Carlos can recover from his injury — their hopes of a first title since 2012 might depend on it.