Grafite saves a point for Al Ahli’s campaign

Al Ahli shared the spoils for a second successive time in the Asian Champions League with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Qatar’s Al Sadd at the Rashid Stadium on Wednesday night.

Grafite gets a hug from Ali Khaled and gives Al Ahli something to celebrate after scoring his 68th-minute goal against  Al Saad fo Qatar for a 1-1 draw in their Group C match of the Asian Champions League at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai on March 12, 2014. Satish Kumar / The National
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Al Ahli - Grafite 68'

Al Sadd - Belhadj 25'

Man of the Match - Majid Hassan

DUBAI //Back where he belonged, Cosmin Olaroiu cut a rather subdued figure throughout Wednesday night’s Asian Champions League clash with Al Sadd.

The Al Ahli coach, midway through a six-month touchline ban that covers only domestic fixtures, probably felt a little out of place, given that since December he has spent each match at the Rashid Stadium looking on from the stands.

Any discomfort would have been amplified by the identity of his opponents, too.

After all, it was Sadd who paid Olaroiu’s bills for 18 months across 2009 and 2010, a time in which he guided the Doha club to the Qatar League Cup.

That seemed to count for next to nothing when old friendships were rekindled, though, for Sadd initially played the ungrateful guests, seizing a first-half lead. However, the ever-dependable Grafite levelled matters with a header just after the hour to secure what could well be a valuable point in Ahli’s quest for qualification. It makes two draws from two Group D encounters for the Dubai club.

Although not the usual combustible Cosmin, Olaroiu’s return to the dugout had apparently still stirred his blood.

“Maybe they were better than us technically in midfield, but we matched this with our running, with our spirit and our fight,” the Romanian said.

“In the end, one point each is a fair result.”

Olaroiu knew his side should have perhaps secured all three in their stadium.

The Arabian Gulf Leaders may not have played like their domestic dominance suggested they could – they remain in the hunt for four trophies this season – but they created enough to register a vital victory.

Ciel was the most profligate, as the Brazilian wasted several clear-cut chances before departing early with what appeared an ankle injury.

At different points, the hosts felt a strain as well, particularly when they had two goals disallowed, albeit rightly so. However, even when Ismail Al Hammadi’s typically adhesive touch deserted him right at the death, as he bore down on goal, Olaroiu remained resolutely relaxed, seemingly content to share the spoils.

With Al Hilal losing earlier in the evening at Iran’s Sepahan, Ahli sit third in a pool that should hold interest until the final fixtures.

“We move on in what is a very hard group,” Olaroiu said.

“If you said before that Hilal were expected to finish first, after two matches they have only one point. This proves how difficult this group is, where any team can qualify. So we’ll see in the coming matches.”

Make no mistake, Sadd played their part also. Raul, their vastly experienced captain, was guilty of wasting a couple of decent opportunities, the worse when he blazed wide in the second half with only Saif Abdullah, the Ahli goalkeeper, to beat. This was far from his Real Madrid vintage. Yet the draw will suit Sadd better, as it keeps intact their unbeaten beginning to the group. Four points from two matches; or rather, winning your home games and gleaning points on the road, has long been a recipe for progression in this competition that Sadd won in 2011.

Hussein Amotta’s mood reinforced as much.

“I wanted to get the three points, especially as we scored first and created a lot of one-on-one chances,” the Sadd coach said.

“But playing against one of the best teams, and particularly when they’ve been playing so well this season, one point is a positive thing. It was a good away match for us.”

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