Asian Champions League final finely poised after scoreless draw at Al Ahli

Paul Radley reports from the Rashid Stadium in Dubai, where Al Ahli escaped without conceding and will head to China for the Asian Champions League final second leg in optimistic spirits.

Ahmed Khalil of Al Ahli and Feng Xiaoting of Guangzhou Evergrande battle for the ball during their Asian Champions League final first leg match on Saturday in Dubai. Marwan Naamani / AFP / November 7, 2015
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Al Ahli 0 Guangzhou Evergrande 0

Red card Haikal (Ahli) 85'

Man of the match Huang Bowen (Guangzhou)

DUBAI // Cosmin Olaroiu said he wanted his Al Ahli players to fight, to make themselves heroes, in the home leg of the final of the continent's leading club competition.

Even if Abdulaziz Haikal took him too literally, and was shown a red card near the end of a nervy encounter at the Rashid Stadium, the Romanian manager still professed himself satisfied with the outcome.

In truth, Ahli did not venture a great deal on home territory, and so gained little. But a goalless draw in the opening salvo of the Asian Champions League final is something to work with when they make the trip to China in two weeks time.

Guangzhou Evergrande won this competition two years ago. They have been perennial contenders, given they have won their domestic crown five years in succession.

Live blog: Al Ahli and Guangzhou settle for first leg stalemate – ACL final as it happened

Visitors' reaction: Luiz Felipe Scolari says 'Second leg will be a fight' in Asian Champions League final

Ahli, by contrast, had never been out of the group stage before this year. As such, some opening night nerves on the big occasion were forgivable, according to the manager.

“Unfortunately we started the game with a lot of stress and pressure,” Olaroiu said.

“I wanted to take the pressure off the players, but they felt it. This is the first time they have played in the final of such a great competition.

“The players fought, they gave their best. Now we move to Guangzhou. We have to support the pressure of the stadium, the supporters, but I trust my players.

“The only positive thing was we didn’t concede a goal. The target wasn’t this, but at least we have a point to start that game.”

Olaroiu’s demeanour on the touchline suggested he wanted his players to pass the ball shorter and quicker.

He was far less animated than his opposite number, though. Luiz Felipe Scolari was seemingly raging against everything.

Afterwards, the Brazilian said he was underwhelmed with his players. He was angry that the referee had allowed Ricardo Goulart, the tournament’s leading scorer and the Chinese side’s playmaker, to be kicked out of the game and possibly the second leg.

The whole of the Guangzhou bench shared in their manager’s ire when Haikal lashed out at Gao Lin, the Guangzhou substitute, with five minutes to go.

The Ahli full-back, who was angrily walking a tightrope all game, first aimed a flick of his boot at Gao when the two players tangled on Guangzhou’s left flank. When he then raised his hands to him, too, the referee had no option but to send Haikal off.

Ahli’s chances were limited to one fine drive from Ismail Al Hammadi in the first half, from a cute through ball by the otherwise inconspicuous Everton Ribeiro, and a missed header by the prolific Rodrigo Lima in the second.

The visitors had the greater share of opportunities on goal, with Huang Bowen striking the crossbar immediately after the interval, and then setting up Yu Hanchao for a shot that was well saved by Ahmed Dida.

Not conceding an away goal was a small triumph for the Dubai side, and Olaroiu thinks his side will be better for it when they travel to Guangzhou later this month.

“Both teams will be under pressure, we will have to find a better way to play in the second game,” the manager said.

“We have to be clever and take the positive things from this game. We will see who is under pressure.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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