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Football: Al Ahli made to sweat on Asian Champions League progression

Dubai: Al Ahli missed a golden opportunity to progress to the second round of the Asian Champions League (ACL) after a goalless draw in their penultimate group game at home to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal on Tuesday.

The Red Knights now face a do-or-die encounter away to Qatar’s Al Sadd next Tuesday in order to confirm their participation in the latter stages of the competition.

The newly crowned UAE league champions were leading Group D on six points heading into their penultimate group game, a point clear of Al Hilal and Al Sadd and two ahead of Iran’s Sepahan. A win would have wrapped up qualification early, giving Al Ahli time to focus on this Saturday’s UAE League Cup final against Al Jazira.

However, after Sepahan beat Al Sadd 4-0 at home in Tuesday’s other group game, the Iranians are now level with Al Ahli on seven points apiece, one clear of Al Hilal and two ahead of Al Sadd. Any team can still qualify as it all boils down to the last round of group games.

After Al Sadd’s hammering in Iran, they will have a point to prove at home to Al Ahli, while resurgent Sepahan still have it all to do against Al Hilal in Saudi.

“We wanted to confirm our qualification, that was our wish but it’s not always possible and we have to accept that,” said Olaroiu, whose team is still on course for a historic five titles this season, having already won the UAE league and Super Cup and booked their place in the finals of both UAE League Cup and President’s Cup competitions.

“We must now look forward to the last group game away to Al Sadd next Tuesday. The UAE League Cup final is also on Saturday and both important matches will now come together. It will be difficult for us, but we can’t complain or make excuses and we will try our best.”

Both Al Hilal’s Mohammad Al Shaloub and Al Ahli’s Grafite hit the post in either half, leaving coaches to rue missed opportunities.

“I expected more from the forwards,” said Olaroiu. “They made the wrong decisions and had the wrong control in the moment. That’s a sign of tiredness but even though they made mistakes, they tried their best.”

Al Hilal coach Sami Al Jaber said he hoped his side could build upon this performance in their final group game at home to Sepahan.

“We were definitely the better side and deserved to win,” said Jaber. “We created three clear chances but unfortunately failed to convert them. We played against the UAE champions and came close to winning the match. We seem to play better when we have our backs to the wall, but we need to change this. We need to make sure we play like this in every game.”

Fact Box

Asian Champions League – groups

Group C

P W D L Df Pts

Al Ain 5 3 1 1 7 10

Al Ittihad 5 3 0 2 2 9

Tractor Sazi 5 1 2 2 -3 5

Al Lekhwiya 5 1 1 3 -6 4

GROUP D

P W D L Df Pts

Sepahan 5 2 1 2 2 7

Al Ahli 5 1 4 0 1 7

Al Hilal 5 1 3 1 4 6

Al Sadd 5 1 2 2 -7 5

Asian Champions League – results

Al Ittihad 2 Tractor Sazi 0

Al Lekhwiya 0 Al Ain 5

Al Ahli 0 Al Hilal 0

Sepahan 4 Al Sadd 0