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Physical strength powered Air Force Club into AFC Champions League group stage, says Odisho

Mecca: Head coach Ayoub Odisho said the physical ability of his players was key in Air Force Club's penalty shootout victory against Saudi Arabia’s Al Wehda FC in their 2021 AFC Champions League playoff at the King Abdulaziz Sports City Stadium on Wednesday.

Air Force found themselves trailing to Youssoufou Niakate's goal after 24 minutes but second half substitute Aymen Hussein's dramatic equaliser in the second minute of added time forced the match into extra time and then the penalty shootout, which the Iraqi side won 3-2.

The win means Air Force Club join UAE’s Sharjah FC, Islamic Republic of Iran’s Tractor and Pakhtakor FC of Uzbekistan in Group B of the 2021 AFC Champions League in Sharjah.

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“We were physically good in the match, especially in extra time,” said Odisho in the post-match press conference. “Al Wehda played well, especially in the first half where we were not good.

“However, our players made a good comeback in the second period and we were lucky in extra time. The players were hasty and they wanted to score quickly while we made some mistakes in midfield.

“However, the good thing is that we won the penalty shootout to qualify.”

Victory means Air Force Club return to the group stage of the AFC Champions League after having been eliminated by Uzbekistan's Pakhtakor at the 2019 playoff stage.

In the mid-2000s, Air Force Club contested three editions of the AFC Champions League but exited at the group stage in 2004, 2006 and 2008 and they will be aiming to progress from Group B, with their opening match against UAE's Sharjah scheduled for Wednesday.

Al Wehda head coach Giorgos Donis praised the performance of his players despite the defeat, citing injuries as a major reason for his side's elimination.

“I’m disappointed because I saw the sorrow of the players in the dressing room after the match,” said Donis. “I asked them before the match to give everything and they tried a lot.”

“We dominated the match and controlled everything in the 90 minutes. We had balance in our lines and we didn’t give a lot to the opponents.

“We had a lot of difficulties during the 90 minutes, including the injuries to Anselmo and Ala'a (Alhaji) and this affected us badly,” said the 51-year-old coach. “However, the players gave their best tonight and in the end, we lost in a penalty shootout.”

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