Al Hilal overcome Xavi’s Al Sadd to reach AFC final

Hilal’s midfielder Andre Carrillo fights for the ball with Sadd’s midfielder Gabi during the second leg of the AFC Champions League semifinals football match between Qatar’s Al Sadd and Saudi’s Al Hilal in Riyadh. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

Al Hilal overcome Xavi’s Al Sadd to reach AFC final

  • Athough Xavi’s Al Sadd scored three goals inside four minutes during a frenetic phase of the game in the first half, they fell short to lose 6-5
  • Razvan Lucescu’s men advanced to their third continental final inside six years, having finished runners up in 2014 and 2017

DOHA: Saudi giants Al Hilal survived a huge scare from Qatar’s Al Sadd before advancing to the AFC Champions League final on aggregate on Tuesday, despite crashing to a shock 4-2 defeat in their second-leg encounter.
Having won their semifinal first leg in Doha 4-1 earlier this month, Al Hilal were seemingly comfortable in the knowledge Al Sadd would be required to come up with a special effort to overturn the massive deficit in front of their home fans in Riyadh.
But although Xavi’s Al Sadd scored three goals inside four minutes during a frenetic phase of the game in the first half, they fell short to lose 6-5, much to the relief of the packed crowd at the King Saud University Stadium.
The match even ended on a dramatic note with Al Sadd earning a free kick just outside the penalty area with a few seconds to go in stoppage time.
But Nam Tae-hee’s cracking effort was stopped by Al Hilal goalkeeper Abdulla Al-Maiouf as Razvan Lucescu’s men advanced to their third continental final inside six years, having finished runners up in 2014 and 2017.
It was Al Hilal, however, who struck first in a fast-paced first half with Salem Al-Dawsari scoring from close in the 13th minute to give his side a 5-1 advantage.
The tables were to be turned shortly afterwards though as Akram Afif equalized from the penalty spot in the 17th minute after he was brought down.
Two minutes later Nam produced a fine burst of speed from the center of the field and advanced into the penalty area before passing the ball to Afif.
The star Qatar forward relayed the ball back to Hassan Al-Haydos, who in turn set up Nam with a deft flick and the Korean blasted home from close.
Al Sadd were 3-1 up in the very next minute with Al-Haydos the scorer this time after Yasser Al-Shahrani in the Al Hilal defense failed to tackle a long ball leaving the goalkeeper exposed with pressure from Nam and his compatriot Jang Hyun-soo
The stunned crowd however heaved a collective sigh of relief in the 25th minute when the prolific Batefimbi Gomis latched on to a diagonal pass from Sebastian Giovinco and netted with a half-volley as Al Hilal stretched their aggregate to 6-4.
The second half lacked the urgency of the first period, but Boualem Khoukhi had the Saudis rattled by heading in an Abdulaziz Ansari pass with the match three minutes into stoppage time.
And when Nam’s late free-kick was saved by Al Hilal goalkeeper Al-Maiouf, Al Hilal’s spot in the final was confirmed.
They face the winners of the semifinal between Guangzhou Evergrande and Urawa Red Diamonds, with the first leg of the final taking place in Riyadh on November 9.

Southgate to bring Sterling back from England exile

Updated 17 November 2019

Southgate to bring Sterling back from England exile

  • World Cup semifinalists ‘still have room for improvement as they chase first major title since 1966’

PRISTINA:  Gareth Southgate is set to bring Raheem Sterling back from his brief England exile in Sunday’s qualifier against Kosovo as he seeks to end the controversy over the Manchester City star’s row with Joe Gomez.

Sterling was dropped for Thursday’s 7-0 rout of Montenegro after clashing with England team-mate Gomez in the Three Lions’ training base canteen.

It is believed Sterling was unhappy with Gomez following an altercation with the Liverpool defender during City’s Premier League defeat at Anfield last weekend.

Although Sterling was left out of the Montenegro game as punishment for his attack on Gomez, Southgate has confirmed the winger will return for England’s final Group A fixture.

Sterling and Gomez, left with a scratch under his eye after the incident, are said to have patched up their relationship, but the center-back was jeered by England fans at Wembley when he came on as a substitute against Montenegro.

Both Southgate and Sterling expressed their support for Gomez and criticized the booing supporters, with the England manager reportedly comforting the shocked 22-year-old and his family after the match.

Now Southgate could include Gomez against Kosovo in a show of support for the Liverpool player.

With England already guaranteed to qualify for Euro 2020 in first place in their group, Southgate already planned to make changes, although he is keen to ensure England finish with a win as they eye a top-six seeding in next year’s tournament.

“We will make some changes, for sure, but the seeding in the group could be critical and we know it’s a big night for the Kosovans,” Southgate said.

“It’s a shame for them that they’re now out of this part of the qualification, although they’ve still got the playoffs in which I think they’ll be a huge threat in that format. “So, it will be a good test for us because it will still be a lively environment.

“The enthusiasm for the game is high and we want to finish the group with as many points as we can.”

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson could return following a one-match ban, while Southgate has to decide whether to keep faith with Ben Chilwell ahead of Danny Rose at left-back.

Harry Kane may have scored a hat-trick against Montenegro but it was Leicester’s Chilwell who was named England’s man of the match following a fine display in which he provided three assists in the opening 24 minutes.

“Ben, I liked the hunger in his game, the enthusiasm to get forward,” Southgate said.

“The whole team pressed well but he also pressed well from that full-back position, got into overlaps, his quality of delivery was excellent.”

Although England have cruised through their qualifying group, Southgate believes the 2018 World Cup semifinalists still have room for improvement as they chase a first major title since 1966.

“There were a couple of chances we conceded that just shouldn’t happen, so that’s still part of our game that we’ve got to improve upon,” he said.

“If we are to be a team that are going to challenge seriously, although we’re young, we’ve got to manage games well.

“We’ve got to make sure that, although we’re such a fantastic attacking threat, the rest of the team is right as well. There are things we’ve got to be better at.”