Sharjah’s long-awaited return to the Asian Champions League ended in disappointment on Tuesday, with the UAE champions defeated 1-0 at home by Saudi Arabian side Al Taawoun.
The 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League winners, making only their second appearance in the continent’s lead club competition and first since 2004, were outdone at Sharjah Stadium by Faisal Darwish’s first-half free-kick.
Still without star playmaker Igor Corondao, Sharjah struggled to break down their obdurate opponents, the closest they came to scoring arriving nine minutes from time. However, Brazil goalkeeper Cassio saved superbly from Majed Surour’s deflected cross.
Sharjah, currently fourth in the domestic league, resume their Group C campaign next week with another home match, this time against Iran’s Persepolis.
“I congratulate Taawoun, but matches in our own ground we’re supposed to win,” said manager Abdulaziz Al Anbari. “We conceded a goal, we tried to come back. We have to accept all the results in football and try to improve.
“Our team wasn’t that bad, we tried. We were better in the second half, but Taawoun defended very well. This is football. We hope in the next match to do better.”
It was Taawoun who began the match the better, even if the first half had little in the way of real goalmouth action. On eight minutes, winger Abdulmajeed Al Suwat curled an effort inches wide of the Sharjah post.
Just after the half hour, the visitors took the lead. Mohammed Abdulbasit fouled needlessly right on the edge of his penalty area, leaving Darwish to chip a brilliant his free-kick beyond Adel Al Hosani in the hosts’ goal and into the top corner.
Suddenly sparked into life, Sharjah pressed forward. Yet they were wayward in whenever a half-chance came their way, first through Majed Surour’s back-post header and then when Ryan Mendes drilled over from the angle on the right. Both were well off target.
In the second half, Sharjah exerted more control, although on 54 minutes, Taawoun midfielder Cedric Amissi sent a free-kick from the left flashing past the upright.
With 14 minutes remaining, Sharjah left-back Al Hassan Saleh lifted a rebound from a corner high over the opposition crossbar. At that point, it was all the home side had to show for their endeavor.
Then, Sharjah thought they had stolen a point. Surour forged forward on the right and advanced into the Taawoun area, his centre was deflected goalwards to force Cassio into a fine reaction save. The ball was almost behind him. Somehow, Taawoun scrambled clear.
As the rain started to descend, Sharjah had one final chance in injury-time, only for Cassio to collect easily Caio’s free-kick. The best of a below-par bunch, the former Al Ain winger, recruited last month from Benfica, was his side’s main creative outlet. Despite his effort, Taawoun held on.
“Since I arrived I have created a family,” said Vitor Campelos, the visiting manager. “Our first problem was that we came here with many players missing, but the ones who played instead did a fantastic job. I thank them, the whole family, and our fans, who supported us from the first minute until the last.”
For Al Anbari, he rejected suggestions the club had resolved not to take seriously the Champions League.
“No, it’s important for me and the management,” the Emirati said. “We are new in this competition, but I see the players playing with spirit. This loss is only the responsibility of the technical staff. We take full responsibility, as always.
“We know this championship is not easy for a team like Sharjah and we have some key absences, such as Coronado, but always we must get the confidence in our players and as a technical staff we believe. We are always trying to make our best.”