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Ten Cate pleased as Al Wahda fight back for AFC Champions League group stage slot

Abu Dhabi: Head coach Henk ten Cate was a proud man after seeing his Al Wahda FSCC side come from behind to defeat Iraq’s Al Zawraa in their 2021 AFC Champions League playoff at the Al Nahyan Stadium on Wednesday.

The Dutch coach, who returned to the UAE club last month, found his side trailing one minute into the second half when Alaa Abdulzahra gave Al Zawraa the lead despite Al Wahda having dominated the first period.

However, Al Wahda equalised through 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin in the 62nd minute before Ibrahim Khalil fired the winning goal in the 77th to take his team into Group E, joining Islamic Republic of Iran’s Persepolis FC, Qatar’s Al Rayyan SC and FC Goa of India.

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“We played a great match and achieved our target of qualifying to the group stage,” said ten Cate in the post-match press conference. “We came from behind to win and this success is for the players.”

“The most important thing is that we won a match which was difficult for us. As I’m still new to the team, things were not easy as well and I’m happy for the players who dedicated the win to captain Ismael Matar on his birthday.”

Al Wahda will now turn their focus to the group stage, which kicks off next week, after having had to withdraw from last year's edition.

Al Wahda were unable to travel to Qatar to compete in the centralised tournament after several team members tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the team to withdraw.

They will open their campaign against 2020 runners-up Persepolis on Wednesday.

Al Zawraa head coach Radhi Shenaishil, meanwhile, said Al Zawraa didn’t deserve to bow out as his side had several chances to seal the win after taking the lead.

“We didn’t deserve this defeat tonight although I want to congratulate Al Wahda for advancing to the next stage of the competition,” said the 54-year-old Shenaishil.

“Our team generally performed well but the substitutes didn’t make the impact we had expected. Al Wahda took advantage of the mistakes that we made while we also squandered several chances.”

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