Al Sadd’s brave fight goes in vain as Al Hilal enter final
Qatar champions notch thrilling 4-2 win in semifinal second leg, but Saudi outfit progresses with 6-5 aggregate victory.
Al Sadd won the battle but lost the war. As promised by their coach Xavi Hernandez, the Qatari champions fought until the very end, but the task in front proved a tad too difficult. They defeated Al Hilal 4-2 in the second-leg semifinal of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday, but it was the Saudi Arabian side that progressed to the final, with a 6-5 win on aggregate.
In a thrilling encounter at Riyadh’s Saud University Stadium, Sadd took the fight to the opposition as only a champion outfit can. They attacked in waves and were just one goal away from what would have been a memorable result – a 6-6 tie would have taken them to the final on away goals rule – but that decisive strike eluded them.
There were many wet eyes on the Sadd bench, but they can certainly return with their pride enhanced. They gave many anxious moments to their rivals as well as the packed home crowd and the relief on the Al Hilal faces at the final whistle was a victory of sorts for the visiting team.
But it is the goals that matter in the game and Hilal had more numbers on their side. Ultimately, Sadd’s 1-4 home defeat in the first leg proved decisive. Hilal’s reward for their win will be a final meeting with the winners of the second semifinal between Guangzhou Evergrande of China and Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds. They play on Wednesday.
Sadd, starting the second leg on a cautious note, suffered an early setback when Hilal pounced on a defensive error to take a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute. Boualem Khoukhi, trying to cut off a cross from Yasser Al Shahrani, put the ball straight to the path of Salem Al Dawsari, who beat Saad Al Sheeb hands down.
To their credit, Sadd took that blow in their stride. Three minutes later, they were back on level terms when Akram Afif converted a penalty after Mohammed Al Burayk brought him down inside the penalty area.
With Hilal not adopting a defensive approach, an open game ensued with end-to-end attacks. Sadd then struck two quick goals to give their hopes a massive boost. South Korean Nam Tae-Hee, playing his best game in Sadd colours, was at the heart of every move. Sprinting forward, he put Salem Al Hajri in possession on the right. Salem swiftly crossed it to Hassan Al Haydos, who in turn, pushed it back to Nam to bulge the net for a 2-1 lead in the 19th minute.
A minute later, Sadd were celebrating again, as Nam pounced on an error by Hilal defender Ali Hadi Albulayhi to set up Al Haydos. The Qatar captain was bang on with his shot, sending shivers down the Saudi spines.
At 3-1 (aggregate 4-5), Sadd were just a goal away from levelling things but their defence again proved flimsy. Off a quick counter-attack, Sebastian Giovinco found Bafetimbi Gomis with a cross and the French forward gleefully accepted the offer to slot home his 10th goal of the competition.
Sadd’s job got harder from then on, but they refused to give up. They moved forward in numbers, but a more defensive-minded Hilal kept them at bay for a long period in the second half. Nam and Afif managed to find room inside the Hilal area, but directed their shots wide as the Saudi team survived.
Khoukhi’s thundering header off a cross from Abdulaziz Ansari in injury time then gave them the jitters as the Sadd led 4-2 with aggregate score at 6-5 in Hilal’s favour.
It was pressure time and with seconds left on the clock, Sadd earned a freekick on the edge of the penalty area. Nam was on target with his kick, but Hilal goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayoof fell to his right to make one of the important saves of his career, dashing Sadd’s hopes and taking his team through to the final.