Al Nasr 0 El Jaish 1 (0-4 aggregate)
Man of the match: Dame Traore (El Jaish)
DUBAI // Wanderley watched on as Al Nasr watched their Asian Champions League dream slip away.
The summer signing from Sharjah was consigned to the stands for Wednesday’s quarter-final second leg against El Jaish at Al Maktoum Stadium, the scorer of two goals in that initial match in Qatar rendered redundant much like his debut performance.
More on Asian Champions League:
• Zlatko Dalic expects a 'better prepared' Al Ain for the Asian Champions League semi-finals
• Al Ain presented a golden opportunity to win a second Asian Champions League title
• With an unexpected 3-0 advantage, El Jaish 'only here to play football' against Al Nasr
• Al Nasr's Ivan Jovanovic calls on AFC to investigate all 'players who have two passports'
Deemed to have played last month’s first leg while registered under a fake Indonesian passport, Wanderley’s ineligibility prompted the Asian Football Confederation to suspend the forward for 60 days and reverse Nasr’s 3-0 victory. An unlikely yet significant reprieve granted, El Jaish began the second encounter with one foot firmly in the semi-finals.
Their progression appeared inevitable as early as the ninth minute, when former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita danced through a couple of Nasr challenges and floated the perfect cross to teammate Romarinho. The Brazilian, who scored against Al Ain in the group stages, clinically dispatched the volley.
So what was 3-0 to Nasr on Monday morning had morphed into 4-0 for El Jaish. The hosts, never before contesting the competition’s knockout rounds, received a knockout blow. Now, they required five goals without reply.
To their credit, Nasr resolved to continue to battle, despite how futile the fight felt. Their supporters willed them on through the remainder of the first half, but Jires Kembo Ekoko twice missed the target from range, while Abdelaziz Barrada failed to connect with a header from Kembo’s cross when he really should have scored. Busy throughout, the Frenchman spent a season-long loan with El Jaish from 2013. He was obviously eager to show his former side what they were missing.
Yet Nasr were clearly missing their spearhead. They recruited Wanderley for nights like these, as he proved three weeks previously in Doha. Stripped of his talents and deprived of the commanding lead he had helped create, Nasr looked to Salem Saleh to lead an unlikely turnaround.
Of course, that never came, never seemed truly plausible. Saleh did strike the post with a scuffed volley not long into the second half, while moments later substitute Jassim Yaqoob could not connect enough with another close-range effort.
As the hour-mark approached, Kembo Ekoko fired a half-volley over the El Jaish crossbar, then Jonathan Pitroipa skewed horribly wide with only goalkeeper Khalifa Ababacar to beat. Fortunately for him, he was ruled offside. Soon, Saleh headed wide of the El Jaish goal. With every miss, Nasr’s exit drew closer.
The television cameras flicked occasionally to Wanderley, sat among other teammates, arms folded, face expressionless. It only accentuated Nasr’s situation, made their plight all the more painful. Deep in injury time, Saleh and Yaqoob added to the anguish by spurning more opportunities.
The final whistle sounded and El Jaish moved on to the semi-finals, to a last-four clash with Al Ain, those familiar foes from earlier in the competition, the team whom they twice defeated back then. Nasr still have an appeal pending against the AFC’s decision, but it seems a forlorn attempt.
In reality, their elimination was all but guaranteed when the punishment was meted out on Monday. It received confirmation two days later at Al Maktoum Stadium, as an admittedly lacklustre El Jaish put them to the sword.
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