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Vitoria confident bright future awaits Al Nassr after AFC Champions League run

Doha: Head coach Rui Vitoria found positives in his Al Nassr side’s 5-3 penalty shootout defeat to Persepolis in the semi-final of the 2020 AFC Champions League on Saturday.

Current top scorer Abderrazak Hamdallah broke the deadlock on 36 minutes from the spot after Bashar Resan had conceded a penalty, before the Iraqi made amends just six minutes later by assisting teammate Mehdi Abdi Qara’s headed equaliser to put the Iran Pro League champions back in the reckoning.

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Both sides sparred across the rest of the 90 minutes and Persepolis were reduced to 10 men halfway through extra time, when midfielder Ehsan Pahlavan received his marching orders after accumulating a second yellow card for a challenge against Abdulrahman Al Dossari.

It was down to penalties despite heavy bombardment from Al Nassr in the final minutes of extra time. After three converted attempts for each side, Al Nassr defender Maicon was denied by goalkeeper Hamed Lak allowing Ali Shojaei the opportunity to beat Brad Jones from the spot to put Persepolis through, which he duly achieved.

Semi-final: Al Nassr 1-1 Persepolis (Persepolis win 5-3 on penalties)

“Congratulations to my team and players as they fought very hard. Everyone saw how Al Nassr showed character and put in a series of good performances in the competition,” said Vitoria.

“Both teams who came this far deserved to be here, but to play seven games in such a short span of time is very difficult. It is tiring physically and mentally for the players. We only trained for five days before this competition, so we needed more time."

Since joining Al Nassr in 2019, Vitoria’s men bettered their best-ever result in the 2019 AFC Champions League quarter-final and went a step further this time around in Doha by making it to the semi-final, but the former Benfica manager believes his side can get even better.

“This team has potential, quality and young players who have the quality, but we need more time to work together. We need to think about certain areas, but we can continue to improve. We are ready for the future. This was an important step for us, we played very well in the seven games we participated here."

“We might not have won this match, but it was a performance for the future. What we saw today was two teams fighting from start to finish, but this comes at a price which we will see now.

"We have injuries and we have to help the players rest and recover before the start of the new season. With the mentality of wanting to win the next match all the time, we can improve.”

Al Nassr get their 2020-21 Saudi Pro League campaign underway on October 18 against Al Fateh, hoping to reclaim the title they last won in 2018-19 before losing it to arch rivals Al Hilal SFC last season.

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