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Analysis: Al Shorta defence leads the way in 2-1 win over Al Duhail SC

Jeddah: Iraq's Al Shorta won their first 2021 AFC Champions League game, defeating Qatari heavyweights Al Duhail SC, and significantly shook up Group C heading into the final round of Group Stage fixtures.

Despite a four-match losing streak and no chance to advance to the knockout rounds, the Iraqi side put in a tenacious defensive performance to secure all three points for the first time in the continental competition this year with a stunning 2-1 win over powerhouses Al Duhail. looks at the key factors from the game to assess how they did it.

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Case for the defence

Following four straight defeats and just one goal scored, Al Shorta’s 2021 AFC Champions League fate was already sealed before stepping out onto the pitch on Tuesday. That did not, however, have any bearing on the defensive performance they put in against Al Duhail.

With less than 38% of possession, their rearguard was always going to be under pressure but, luckily for the Bagdad-based side, they were up for the task. Leading the way was Saad Natiq, who had a crucial interception in the 31st minute to deny Michael Olunga; one of his four throughout the match. The 27-year-old also led the way with seven of the team's 27 clearances, and assisted the match-winning goal.

Much of Al Shorta’s strategy relied heavily on stifling the middle of the pitch and only moving forward when necessary. In fact only Amjad Attwan, Mazin Fayyadh, and Mohammed Dawood averaged a position in Al Duhail’s half of the field. By contrast, seven of the Qatari side’s players spent most of their time in the attacking half.

Successful in nearly 78% of their tackles, the result was Al Shorta frustrating their opponents despite the sustained pressure. Midfielder Saad Abdulameer played perhaps the most vital role leading the way with 64 touches, 43 passes, and 14 duels. Should he and the rest of the midfield be up for a similar task against Esteghlal FC in their final continental match of the year, they may influence Group C more than they already have.

Can anyone stop Michael Olunga?

Another game, another goal for Kenyan striker Michael Olunga. The 27-year-old continues to impress in his first season with Al Duhail after making the move from Kashiwa Reysol, where he scored a sensational 28 goals in 32 appearances last year.

His 57th-minute equaliser against Al Shorta may not have proved enough to gain a point in the match, but it marked his eight of the competition and pushed him four clear of the men in second place, Al Ahli Saudi’s Omar Al Soma and Esteghlal's Cheick Diabate.

A level of success thanks in no small part to where he’s receiving the ball. With just 40 touches throughout the match (third lowest on the team), Olunga rarely gets the ball outside of a scoring position, and continues to display clever off-the-ball movement.

Although he does well with this on his goal, his use of space is perfectly illustrated on the chance Saad Natiq denied him in the first half.

Flanked by defenders, Olunga created space for himself by making a near-post run to get on the end of the cross. If not for a goal-saving sliding tackle, the decision would have paid off in the form of yet another to Olunga's tally. With everything clicking for him at the moment, the question doesn’t seem to be if he’ll score again, but rather how many more he can get.

Taking your chances

Despite managing just four shots in the match, Al Shorta missed the target just once, and converted twice. The very epitome of efficiency in attack, the team’s performance was also buoyed by some heroics between the sticks.

It only took three minutes for Amjed Attwan to stun Al Duhail with the very first shot of the match, a sweetly struck volley that would be his only shot across the 90 minutes. He spent the rest of his time helping retain the small amounts of possession Al Shorta had with the second most touches on the team (54), completing 85% of his passes, and picking up two interceptions as well.

2021 AFC Champions League: Al Shorta 2-1 Al Duhail SC

At the other end of the pitch, goalkeeper Ahmed Basil kept his side in the match when Al Duhail threw nearly everything at him in an attempt to equalise. Keeping out fine efforts from both Sultan Al Brake and Almoez Ali in the first half, Basil ensured the all important mental advantage of going into the break with a lead.

He will need to have a repeat performance against Esteghlal if the Iraqi side are to have any chance of creating another upset. The Group C leaders head into this weekend’s encounter as the highest scoring side in the competition with 13 goals, but if Al Shorta can repeat the performance they put in midweek, they may yet have more to say in this tournament.

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