RIYADH: Al-Hilal were left to rue a missed penalty, awarded in controversial circumstances, as they were held to a frustrating 1-1 home draw in an incident-packed AFC Champions League semi-final first leg by Emiratis Al-Ahli.
A stale match burst into life in the second period, with Brazilian Lima putting Al-Ahli ahead with a strong 57th minute header only for his compatriot Ailton to grab a share of the spoils with a headed goal of his own eight minutes from time. “We struggled in the first half and we made several wrong decisions,” Al-Hilal manager Georgios Donis bemoaned after receiving criticism for his 3-5-2 formation. “Things improved in the second period as our performance was better despite conceding a goal from one clear attack while we missed several scoring chances include the penalty kick.” The penalty, awarded on the hour mark, had incensed Al-Ahli. Defender Salmeen Khamis picked up the ball to throw back to his goalkeeper believing it had trickled out of play over the goalline only for the referee and his assistant to award a penalty after deciding the ball was in fact still in. Television replays showed the ball was over the line. But Brazilian midfielder Carlos Eduardo could only send the spot kick against the post, much to the ire of the bulk of the 53,268 fans at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh.
The visitors retreated thereafter as last year’s runners-up threw on reigning AFC Player of the Year Nasser Al Shamrani but they lacked fluidity and composure in the final third before Ailton headed home a corner late on. Still Al-Ahli, seeking to reach a first ACL final and become the first UAE representatives in the Asian club showpiece in a decade, held out for a draw and were optimistic of progressing from the second leg on Oct. 20 after claiming an away goal. “We knew the match would not be easy and Al-Hilal are a big team and we struggled to control all of the proceedings,” their coach Cosmin Olaroiu, formerly with the Saudis, said. “The result is positive, but it is not enough to qualify as we must start working and preparing for the second leg. We hope that we can take advantage of playing the second match at home in order to qualify to the final.” Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande will host Japanese treble winners Gamba Osaka in the first leg of the other semi-final later yesterday. —Reuters