Al Nassr power into quarter-finals
Abu Dhabi: Al Nassr walked away with the quarter-final ticket at the expense of Al Wahda after a thrilling 3-2 victory in the second leg of the 2019 AFC Champions League Round of 16 gave them a 4-3 aggregate win on Monday.
Al Nassr's win means they will face Qatar's Al Duhail SC or Al Sadd SC in the quarter-finals, which will be played on August 26 and September 16.
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Despite reaching the quarter-finals in 2004 and the semi-finals in 2007, Al Wahda had yet to register a single win in the AFC Champions League knock-out stages and were hopeful it would be a first victory to send them through to the last eight of the 2019 edition.
Propelled by a large crowd at Al Nahyan Stadium, the UAE’s sole remaining representatives in the competition wasted no time in taking the game to their visitors’ half, and within 30 seconds, Leonardo had latched onto a long pass from Nicolas Milesi and advanced into the box before squaring back to the Uruguayan who mishit his shot, sending it wide of the goal.
Al Wahda threatened again through Sebastian Tagliabue in the 16th minute. The Argentine lost his marker at the far post but volleyed Ismael Matar’s corner high and wide.
The hosts’ pressure paid dividends in the 27th minute. Al Nassr captain Omar Hawsawi failed to properly clear a Matar long pass, sending the ball straight to Leonardo who had time to control then find Mohammed Al Menhali with a pinpoint cross.
The right-back struck on the half volley into the roof of the net to give Al Wahda the lead on the night and cement their position on aggregate.
The last 15 minutes of the first half saw Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr regroup and try to find a way back into the game, which they got four minutes before the break in a nearly identical fashion to their goal in the first leg.
Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah was first to the cross, beating Hamdan Al Kamali in the air to guide home a diving header from Fahad bin Jumayah’s cross from the right flank.
Hamdallah’s goal brought the game back to square one, but the tie would only last for five minutes as the hosts defence was exposed again in the first minute of added time and the Moroccan was again the key man.
A forward pass from Abdullah Al Khaibari was flicked on by Hamdallah on the edge of the area into the path of Giuliano and the Brazilian playmaker showed composure to slot past Mohammed Al Shamsi for his fourth goal of the 2019 AFC Champions League, tilting the tie in Al Nassr’s favour going into the break.
The result was put beyond doubt by the hour mark as a catalogue of defensive mistakes from Al Wahda allowed Giuliano to strike again.
Matar retreated to support the defence, but his effort to make a clearance ended with the ball at the feet of Hamad Al Mansoor who attempted to finish from a tight angle.
Al Shamsi was successful in parrying the ball, but there was little he could do to prevent Giuliano from burying home the rebound to make it 4-2 on aggregate.
A glimmer of hope resurfaced for the home crowd 12 minutes from time as Matar snatched the ball of a defender and crossed for Tahnoon Al Zaabi whose volley from the edge of the box hit Tagliabue and changed direction, leaving goalkeeper Brad Jones helpless to save. Al Wahda still needed two goals to get the quarter-final ticket.
Milesi thought he had put Al Wahda within a goal of a historic comeback in the 87th minute, but the former Al Hilal midfielder was in an offside position when he kicked home Leonardo’s header from point-blank.
A comeback wasn’t to be, and it was the travelling Saudi fans who celebrated qualification, having started the night in a disadvantaged position after the 1-1 draw in Riyadh last week.
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