Al Nasr, in blue, against Lokomotiv of Uzbekistan. Marwan Naamani / AFP
Al Nasr, in blue, against Lokomotiv of Uzbekistan. Marwan Naamani / AFP

Three is the magic number for Al Nasr as they progress in Asian Champions League

Lokomotiv 0

Al Nasr 0

Man of the match: Ahmed Shambieh (Al Nasr)

Finally, at the third time of asking, Al Nasr can look forward to a run at the Asian Champions League knockout stages.

The Dubai club have never really been close before, finishing a distance third and rock bottom in their respective groups in two previous appearances, but that changed Wednesday night at the Bunyodkor Stadium in Tashkent.

There, Nasr eked out a 0-0 draw against Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv, grasping the solitary point required to confirm a runner-up finish behind their unbeaten opponents in Group A.

Read more from John McAuley:

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A last-16 clash with Iran’s Tractor Sazi awaits, with the first leg to come in Dubai on May 17, when Nasr can dream of emulating Al Ahli’s history-making jaunt of last year.

Just like Ahli 12 months ago, Nasr have laid their group ghosts to rest; for them, it is third time lucky, three is their magic number.

They will feel fortunate that the make-up of the pool dictated a draw would work best for both Nasr and Lokomotiv, the resolute Uzbeks who knew a share of the spoils would guarantee them top spot.

The first half played out as such, with little of note taking place. Its first real effort did not arrive until the 34th minute, when Lokomotiv’s Sanjar Shaakhmedov unleashed a rasping shot, speculative but forceful, from 30 yards. It sent Ahmed Shambieh scampering across his goal, but the Nasr goalkeeper thrust up his right arm to palm away the ball.

At the other end, the visitors never troubled, with Jires Kembo Ekoko shooting high into the stands shortly after half time. The Frenchman had scored from similar range in the initial fixture between the two teams two weeks ago, a match that ended 1-1, but here his radar was off.

Moments later, Shaakhmedov forced another, smarter save from Shambieh. The Nasr stopper got down well to the long-range effort, repelling the danger to keep the home side at bay. Almost from that juncture, Nasr quelled any potential Lokomotiv threat.

Even as Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad, third in Group A, were winning the other encounter and therefore making necessary the draw, Nasr kept their cool, stuck to their task, let nothing derail them.

Ivan Jovanovic’s men were nowhere near their best, but that did not matter: this was a professional job, as the UAE side achieved exactly what they set out to do. It stretched their unbeaten run in the competition to five games – they have not lost since the opening match day – an impressive stat given they had tasted defeat in 10 of the 13 Champions League fixtures they had played before this year’s edition.

They have come far under Jovanovic’s expert tutelage.

They will seek to go even further now, to keep what appears an impossible dream within their sights.

Qualifying represents a hugely impressive feat by Nasr, one that was not expected when the groups began way back in February. But they have risen to the challenge, much like they did in Tashkent on Wednesday night. A draw against Lokomotiv and a place in the knockout stages at last. Full steam ahead.

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”


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Bert van Marwijk factfile

Born: May 19 1952
Place of birth: Deventer, Netherlands
Playing position: Midfielder

Teams managed:
1998-2000 Fortuna Sittard
2000-2004 Feyenoord
2004-2006 Borussia Dortmund
2007-2008 Feyenoord
2008-2012 Netherlands
2013-2014 Hamburg
2015-2017 Saudi Arabia
2018 Australia

Major honours (manager):
2001/02 Uefa Cup, Feyenoord
2007/08 KNVB Cup, Feyenoord
World Cup runner-up, Netherlands

Specs: 2024 McLaren Artura Spider

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and electric motor
Max power: 700hp at 7,500rpm
Max torque: 720Nm at 2,250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 3.0sec
Top speed: 330kph
Price: From Dh1.14 million ($311,000)
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