After a heart-breaking defeat in last year’s AFC Champions League Final against minions from Australia Western Sydney Wanderers, Al-Hilal is ready to take another shot on the ultimate continental goal.
The Saudi Arabian team took a huge step on Tuesday in the first leg of the quarter-finals by beating Qatar’s Lekhwiya 4 – 1. The second leg is in two weeks and only a miracle will prevent Al-Hilal from advancing to the semi-finals.
The first leg started furiously with two goals in the first 20 minutes. The home team broke the deadlock in the 11th minute; they needed the help of Lekhwiya’s goalie to do that though. Amine Lecomte stalled to clear the ball and that cost him as Brazilian striker Ailton got in the way and directed the ball into the net. Six minutes later however, the score was even-steven again as Msakni kept his composure and finished near Al-Hilal’s goalkeeper. The away team had another chance after the first half hour only to miss and lose control of the game.
“We had a close chance to score when the result was 1 – 1 but we failed to take advantage. From the resulting counter attack, Al-Hilal took the lead and this was the turning point in the match as things could have been different had we scored that chance,” Lekhwiya coach Djamel Belmadi said afterwards, according to The-AFC.com.
The home team didn’t stop there and doubled their advantage till half-time. The goal by Eduardo in the 86th minute sealed the deal and most probably Al-Hilal’s qualification into the next stage.
Following this result, most bookmakers see Al-Hilal as the favorites to win the West Zone and advance to the Final. But before reaching the final stage, they still need to survive three more games. And possibly one encounter with 2014 UAE Pro-League winner Al-Ahli.
Al-Ahli is currently fourth on the bookmakers’ AFC Champions League odds list and one of the favorites to reach the semi-finals. The UAE team beat Iran’s Naft Tehran on Wednesday right on their home pitch, 1-0. The only goal was scored after a corner and a header continuation. Still, Al-Ahli coach, Romanian Cosmin Olaroiu is far from being comfortable with the outcome.
“We know how strong Naft are with free kicks and at set pieces, so that we shouldn’t think that we are past this stage by now,” Olaroiu explained.
The second leg is scheduled for September 16, 2015 with the Al-Ahli being the heavy favorites. They seem bound to advance and give Al-Hilal a hard time on the pitch even though they didn’t enjoy such a good season in the their domestic competition – they finished seventh. Will the football predictions hold true? Will Al-Hilal return to the AFC Champions League Final for the second straight year?
by Florian Gheorghe