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Analysis: Al Nassr come out on top to seize spot in AFC Champions League Round of 16


Riyadh: Al Nassr secured the victory they needed to book their ticket to the Round of 16 of the 2021 AFC Champions League as they saw off Al Sadd SC 2-1 in Group D on Thursday, a result that would ultimately eliminate the Qatari side. 

Xavi Hernandez's Al Sadd went into the match on a three-game winning run while Al Nassr has stuttered since winning the reverse fixture 3-1 on Matchday Two, but they found their form when it mattered most to progress to the knockout rounds for the third successive year.

The-AFC.com looks back at the key factors behind the result.

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Hamdallah finding his groove

The 2020 AFC Champions League's top scorer Abderrazak Hamdallah has struggled with form and injuries domestically in the current campaign, but the usually prolific Moroccan looks to be returning to somewhere near his best after producing when it mattered most. Since drawing a blank in the opening-day draw with Al Wehdat, he has found the back of the net four times in five games.

In truth, Hamdallah was gifted the opening goal of the game when goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham played the ball straight to him on the edge of area. But the 30-year-old, who had missed an early header, was assured with his finish as he thumped home the goal that calmed Al Nassr nerves and put them in pole position in the group.

Hamdallah should have put his side two goals up six minutes before the interval but this time he was off target after surging forward to get on the end of Nordin Amrabat's square ball. He did not dwell on the missed opportunity, however, as just a minute later excellent movement saw him latch onto Sultan Al Ghannam's through pass, only to see his effort saved by Barsham.

In total, Hamdallah posted five efforts on goal while seven of his 29 touches were in the opposition penalty area, both numbers more than anyone else on the pitch. While he may not have hit his peak form of 2020, there are signs he is finding his groove once more, which can only be good for Al Nassr and bad for the rest.


A Group Stage to forget for Bounedjah

By contrast, it was a night the other North African striker on the pitch will soon want to erase from his memories. At the 2018 AFC Champions League, Algerian forward Baghdad Bounedjah netted 13 times in just 12 matches to take the tournament's top scorer accolade.

But after Thursday's tie, his 2021 campaign was to conclude with just one goal from six games as he was largely neutralised by an Al Nassr backline that conceded the joint third fewest number of goals.

Against Al Nassr, he only once looked like doubling his tally when he was through on goal on the 35th minute, but his tepid attempt was smothered by Waleed Ali who has enjoyed a fine tournament so far. It was a chance, though, that an in-form Bounedjah would normally have put away with aplomb.

A header a minute earlier wasn't an easy chance, due to the pace of the cross and the angle, but the only other effort – an audacious overhead kick with 11 minutes remaining – sailed over the bar. With just one shot on target for his 90 minutes' work and more duels lost than won, it was another frustrating and costly night for the Al Sadd number 11.


Foul play fails to pay

When dissecting the data of the match there was plenty to show a balanced tie between two evenly-matched teams, but one that is among the most lopsided is fouls conceded, with Al Sadd's 27 (below, light blue) far above the 11 of their Saudi Arabian hosts (below, dark blue)

The vast majority of these were attempts to break up play in either Al Nassr's half or around the centre of the pitch and, indeed, it did allow Al Sadd to control possession with nearly 54% of the ball. With just one yellow card (6) more than their opponents, the bulk of their infringements were minor but played an important "spoiler" role in their game play.

However, ultimately, it would prove their undoing with 16 minutes remaining of the tie. Boualem Khouki's foul on Hamdallah near the right touchline resulted in a free-kick in a dangerous position. Nordin Amrabat floated in an inviting cross from the resulting dead-ball situation and Abdulelah Al Amri took full advantage with a thumping header.

Appropriately enough, Al Sadd's reply also came from a foul, this time at the other end, after Ali Al Lajami brought down Yusuf Abdurisag in the area and Santi Cazorla converted the spot-kick.

But it would prove to be too little, too late for Xavi's side with Al Nassr claiming the points and top spot in Group D, and, with results on Friday not going Al Sadd's way, ultimately eliminating the Spaniard's side.

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