ACL 2019: Bafetimbi Gomis recovers from shocker to make it a memorable night for Al Hilal

Saudi side register 4-1 win in AFC Champions League semi-final first leg over Al Sadd after forward's own goal

Al Hilal forward Bafetimbi Gomis during the first leg of the AFC Champions League semi-final against Al Sadd in Doha. AFP
Al Hilal forward Bafetimbi Gomis during the first leg of the AFC Champions League semi-final against Al Sadd in Doha. AFP

Bafetimbi Gomis erred, then he atoned.

The Al Hilal striker’s night began on a sour note, but concluded with a sweeter than sweet sensation.

By the end, his club’s quest for that most coveted of crowns had received a sizeable boost. They departed Doha with a near-insurmountable lead.

And so the first leg of their Asian Champions League semi-final proved a favourable one for the Saudi Arabians, Xavi’s Al Sadd defeated 4-1 at their Jassim bin Hamad Stadium despite taking an early lead.

Determined to have quite the evening, it was Gomis who gifted Sadd an initial advantage. In the 14th minute, and facing the away end, the Frenchman misdirected Hassan Al Haidos’ cross into his own net.

Without a goal in his past three Champions League matches, Gomis had registered on the scoresheet, albeit for the wrong side. Seeking a third final appearance in the past six years, Hilal’s latest venture veered right at the off.

Yet they rebounded. Sebastian Giovinco had a shot saved. Only a fine block denied full-back Mohammed Al Breik applying the finishing touch to a sweeping move.

Then Gomis made amends. Moments after he had dragged wide a shot when free on the edge of the Sadd penalty area, he struck. The Qataris played their part, getting in a muddle at the back to allow Andre Carrillo to collect the ball and find Giovinco at the far post. The Italian cushioned the cross into Gomis’ path, and the forward restored parity.

A first goal in four continental matches after notching seven in his opening seven, Gomis moved to eight for the tournament. Only Leonardo, the former Al Wahda winger now at Dubai’s Al Ahli Shabab, had more with nine.

Within a flash, Sadd’s night got even worse. Defender Abdelkarim Hassan reacted to conceding a cheap foul by smashing away the ball. He received a yellow card, then manhandled the referee. The red swiftly followed.

Indignant, Sadd soon succumbed. Once more Gomis was initially wasteful, shooting straight at Saad Al Sheeb when through on goal. However, again he rectified his blunder, causing enough confusion from the ensuing corner to allow Ali Al Bulaihi to chest home on the goal-line. Hilal headed into half-time with their tails up; Sadd sloped off shell-shocked.

On the hour, they were all but knocked out. This time, Yasser Al Shahrani's surge down the left to tee up Gomis, who bundled over the line.

Scenting blood, Hilal made it four almost straight after, substitute and stalwart Mohammad Al Shalhoub placing his low effort beyond Al Sheeb. Aged 38, he will know to never count anyone out, but this tie feels bound for only one outcome. Champions in 2011, Sadd need at least four goals in Riyadh on October 22 to have any hope of avoiding a second successive semi-final exit.

Runners-up in 2014 and 2017, Hilal are well placed to reach the showpiece again. The 2000 champions, before the “Champions League” rebrand, sit firmly in pole. Mission half accomplished, this might be their year, finally, after all.

Updated: October 2, 2019 10:43 AM

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