First goal was crucial, says Benatia
Doha: Medhi Benatia drew on his FIFA World Cup experience with Morocco and admitted that it was vital Al Duhail made their dominance count with a goal against Esteghlal in Group C of the 2019 AFC Champions League on Tuesday, before they went on to record a 3-0 victory.
After a scoreless first half against the Iranian side, Benatia headed home the first goal as the hour approached to ease any opening-day nerves, before Youssef El Arabi and substitute Ali Afif both got on the scoresheet as the Qatari champions got off to a perfect start.
For Benatia, who was making his AFC Champions League debut after joining from Juventus, the game brought back memories of when he last faced Iranian opposition, back in June.
Morocco dominated against the Islamic Republic of Iran in their opening match at the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018, only to concede deep into stoppage time and suffer an agonising 1-0 defeat.
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“As long as you don’t score the first goal it’s always going to be difficult, the first goal unlocks the game a little bit,” said Benatia, who reached the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League final with Juventus.
“We knew that Iranian teams are really hard to play against. I remember a bad experience we had at the World Cup with Morocco when we dominated the whole game but lost 1-0 in the end.
“The Iranian teams are like that so we had to score that first goal and then we could build on it, but I think in the first half we still had control of the game.”
Al Duhail began last year’s AFC Champions League in stunning fashion, winning all six of their group games and then their first three knockout round matches to equal Ulsan Hyundai’s record of nine successive victories in the 2012 competition.
The wheels came off in the second leg of the quarter-finals, though, when another Iranian team, Persepolis, recorded a 3-1 win in Islamic Republic of Iran to eliminate the Qatari side.
Now under new head coach Rui Faria and with quality acquisitions such as Benatia and Japanese international Shoya Nakajima, the Doha side return as one of the favourites to lift the title.
“It's good to start with a win, especially at home, and if you want to go far in this competition, you have to start like that,” added the 31-year-old defender, whose new team currently sit four points behind table-toppers Al Sadd in the Qatar Stars League.
“The coach is doing a very good job but he only arrived a few weeks ago and we need results quickly; that’s what we have been doing since he came and we are trying to give it our all.”
Al Duhail will travel to Riyadh to face Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal in their next Group C game on Tuesday.
Photo: Getty Images
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