Abdallah stars as Shabab Al Ahli open ACL account with Khodro win - GulfToday

Abdallah stars as Shabab Al Ahli open ACL account with Khodro win

Shabab Al Ahli

Shabab Al Ahli and Shahr Khodro players in action during their 2020 AFC Champions League match on Monday.

A beautiful solo goal from youngster Harib Abdallah was the difference as Shabab Al Ahli Dubai FC managed their first three points in the 2020 AFC Champions League with a win over Islamic Republic of Iran’s Shahr Khodro FC in Group B.

With both teams having lost their opening two fixtures, they set out to get their first points of the campaign ahead of their next game against each other three days later.

Playing their first competitive fixture since March, Shabab Al Ahli’s first chance of the game came early on when 2015 AFC Footballer of the Year Ahmed Khalil struck a placed shot at Shahr Khodro keeper Matin Safaeian, who was able to make the save.

The first 15 minutes were characterised by intense pressure from the Dubai side, whose efforts were met by physical challenges that resulted in a number of indirect free-kicks being leveled into the penalty area.

Safaeian was called into action again when Khalil headed a high ball down into the path of Abdullah Al Naqbi, who in turn placed a shot above the keeper yet the latter just about managed to tip it over the crossbar.

The first half lost intensity as time went on after a spell of dominance by Shabab Al Ahli gradually eroded with neither of the teams posing a threat after the half hour mark, while a rise in physical challenges increased the number of stoppages due to fouls.

A few minutes into the second half Khalil blasted wide, with the next 15 minutes bringing virtually no final third action bar a header by Al Naqbi that fell wide of the goal from Azizjon Ganiev’s free-kick.

Al Naqbi was the centre of the action again after Khalil’s through ball found him, and one on one with the keeper, the midfielder somehow slashed wide from eight yards.

In a rare chance for Shahr Khodro, the Iran Pro League side’s attack managed to string a number of passes outside their opponent’s area, but it ended when Akbar Sadeghi skied the shot.

Former Al Hilal SFC playmaker Carlos Eduardo made his debut for Shabab Al Ahli 65 minutes into the match.

Substitute Abdallah finally opened the scoring a quarter of an hour from time in magnificent fashion, dribbling down the right wing and taking on several players, and subsequently placing a low shot which took a touch from Safaeian before hitting the bar and bouncing into the net.

The match sprung into life after the goal, with the Iran side responding at the other end of the pitch with a shot from Amin Ghaseminejad that Majed Nasser gratefully held. Another shot followed this time when Mohammed Khalatbari left footed a shot, which again Nasser managed to save with relative ease as the game ended with Abdullah’s solitary goal for the Emiratis.

The two sides play each other again on Thursday at the same stadium with another defeat spelling exit for Shahr Khodro.

Meanwhile, Al Duhail SC and Sharjah FC are looking to turn a new page as the Qatari and Emirati champions face-off on Matchday 3 of the 2020 AFC Champions League Group C on Tuesday.

Two points separate the two sides with Al Duhail in second place on three points, and Sharjah bottom of the group on one point, and the two sides are eager to get their continental restart underway with a win.

Having joined Al Duhail midway through the 2019-20 season, former Moroccan international defender Walid Regragui has already won his first honour at the club, clinching the Qatar Stars League title, but the 44-year-old believes his side will need to show different qualities to go far in the AFC Champions League.

“We had a lot of injuries especially after the restart, but we won the league despite those injuries and I have faith in every member of the squad,” said Regragui.

“To play every three days and go all the way to the final, you have to have that fighting spirit. I believe the winner this year will not be the best team, but the one with the most fighting spirit and I always tell that to my players.

Sharjah have not played competitive football since the UAE Pro League grounded to a halt back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but coach Abdulaziz Al Anbari knows his side have ground to make if they are to stand a chance of reaching the knockout stages for the first time since 2004.

“We did not start well as we had absences for key players including Igor Coronado, but now we have everyone on board. Our only problem is the long stoppage, but we worked hard and are ready to put in a performance befitting the name of our club and UAE football,” said the former Sharjah playmaker.

Meanwhile, UAE club Al Wahda have been withdrawn from the AFC Champions League after the club failed to arrive in Doha, Qatar for their remaining group matches, the continental soccer governing body (AFC) said on Monday.

Al Wahda were supposed to arrive in Doha a minimum of four days before their match but informed the AFC last week that they could not travel due to positive COVID-19 tests which led to the club being placed under quarantine by authorities in the UAE.

Former AFC Champions League winners Al Ain FC and Al Sadd FC go head to head in Group D of the 2020 edition at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Qatar on Tuesday.

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