Five-star Al Ahli seal AFC Elite spot, Al Taawoun consolidate fourth

Al Ahli book place in AFC Champions League Elite

Pitso Mosimane had a miserable return to his former club as Al Ahli cruised past his relegation-threatened Abha side 5-1 to guarantee a third-place finish and seal their spot in next season’s AFC Champions League Elite.

It took only eight minutes on Saturday evening for Feras Al Buraikan to put Al Ahli ahead, the Saudi Arabian striker quickest to react to a fumble from Abha goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu before poking the ball home from close range.

Abha offered little attacking threat but on 19 minutes spurned a perfect chance to draw level. An uncharacteristic error from Al Ahli goalkeeper Edouard Mendy led to Abha winger Hassan Al Ali racing onto the ball and simply rolling the ball into the empty net. However, the former Al Ahli player contrived to turn the ball wide.

Surprisingly, Al Ahli were still only 1-0 up despite dominating possession, and they ramped up the pressure in the first-half stoppage time, when Roberto Firmino’s drilled strike was well blocked by Abha defender Fabian Noguera.

A goal felt inevitable, and Al Ahli ended the first half on a high. This time, Al Buraikan turned provider, volleying the ball into the path of Ziyad Al Johani, who showed a great first touch and close control to place a left-footed strike through the legs of Tatarusanu.

With 18 minutes remaining, Sumayhan Al Nabit provided a deserved third goal for Al Ahli. The Saudi Arabian traded passes on the left wing with Firmino and, after Tatarusanu stopped his initial drive, Al Nabit was quick to seize on the rebound to turn the ball into the net.

Two goals in as many minutes then put the gloss on the win for Matthias Jaissle’s team. Not for the first time, Abha goalkeeper Tatarusanu had a hand in the goal, the Romanian failing to deal with Riyad Mahrez’s long-range drive for the ball to eventually roll across the line.

With 87 minutes on the clock, Franck Kessie scored the goal of the night. Mahrez provided the pass on the edge of the Abha area before the midfielder side-footed the ball into the top corner.

There was still time for Abha to pull back a late consolation, as Saad Bguir’s free-kick came off the post and into the goal via the head of Mendy, but it mattered little in the end.

With the win, Al Ahli have confirmed third spot in the RSL standings and a place in the inaugural Asian Champions League Elite for next season. As for Abha, their place in the RSL looks precarious; Mosimane’s side are currently in 17th, two points from safety with two games remaining.

Al Taawoun close on fourth with gritty win against Al Shabab

Joao Pedro scored a second-half penalty as Al Taawoun kept on track their top-four finish and place in the AFC Champions League 2 with a 1-0 victory at home to Al Shabab.

More than 4,600 fans came to the 6,000-capacity Al Taawoun Club Stadium on Saturday evening and were not disappointed as the hosts pressed forward early on.

Winger Mohammed Al Kuwaykibi stood up a ball to the back post to find Flavio, whose sweetly struck volley was stopped by Al Shabab goalkeeper Mustafa Malayekah.

Reigning RSL player of the month Yannick Carrasco was also clearly in the mood, the winger jinking his way down the left before curling a shot from a tight angle. The save from Mailson did bring about a smile from the Belgian international.

Deep into first-half stoppage-time, Al Taawoun really should have been ahead. Musab Al Juwayr lost the ball high up the pitch with the ball then rolling to Al Kuwaykibi in the Al Shabab area, only for goalkeeper Malayekah to race quickly off his line to clear the danger.

Four minutes after the restart, Al Taawoun won a penalty. Al Kuwaykibi, who had been a consistent attacking threat, curled in a cross that struck the hand of Carlos Junior.

Pedro stepped up and smashed his spot-kick into the roof of the net for his 11th goal of the RSL campaign. The strike was so fierce that it brought about an enthusiastic shake of the fists from Wolves manager Pericles Chamusca.

Al Shabab sprung into life in search of an equaliser, with Al Juwayr coming close from outside the Al Taawoun area that Mailson did well to turn around the post.

Likewise, defender Iago Santos missed out on a chance to score against his former club, the Brazilian defender only managing to push his header wide from an Ivan Rakitic corner.

Second-half substitute Vitinho also almost pulled his side level. The Al Ettifaq loanee sent a swerving effort from outside the home side’s area, but Mailson was yet again equal to the effort, diving to his right for a fine one-handed save to deny the winger.

Al Taawoun were resolute in defence and elected to play on the counter. With eight minutes remaining, Musa Barrow should have wrapped up the match with a moment of individual magic.

After picking up the ball in his own half, the substitute drove towards goal and eluded two Al Shabab tackles before shaping to shoot. A curling right-footed shot had Malayekah beaten but thudded off the crossbar.

Despite late pressure from Al Shabab, Al Taawoun held on for the win. The result means they require only two points from their final two matches to guarantee a top-four finish and a place in the AFC Champions League 2. Al Shabab, meanwhile, drop to ninth. 

Al Hazem snatch last-gasp draw with Al Riyadh in Ar Rass

Paulo Ricardo snatched a 98th-minute equaliser as already-relegated Al Hazem played out a 1-1 draw with fellow strugglers Al Riyadh on Saturday evening.

Al Hazem bossed the early proceedings, and on 26 minutes crafted their first chance of note. Muhammed Badamosi, one of the standout players for the Al Rass side in recent weeks, sent a fierce 30-yard strike hurtling towards goal, only for Al Riyadh goalkeeper Martin Campana to push away the effort.

Moments later, Badamosi held up the ball well and turned his maker in the Al Riyadh area. However, the Gambian’s strike crashed into the side-netting from a tight angle.

Despite being second best for the first half, Al Riyadh fortuitously went ahead four minutes after the break. Winger Abdulelah Al Khaibari found himself in plenty of space on the left and his drilled cross was turned into his own goal by Al Hazem defender Bruno Viana.

Al Riyadh are hovering dangerously above the RSL relegation zone and thus manager Odair Hellmann would have earmarked this game as a must-win for his side.

At the other end, Al Hazem showed signs of grabbing an equaliser, Badamosi again denied by Campana. This time, the Uruguayan produced a fine reaction save to repel the striker’s point-blank header.

Deep into stoppage-time, Al Hazem found themselves level. Faiz Selemani provided the ball that fell in the direction of Ricardo, leaving the Brazilian to deftly lob the ball over Campana. Despite an attempted clearance and remonstrations from Al Riyadh, the goal stood.

The draw, therefore, does little to ease Al Riyadh’s relegation fears, who have 31 points and sit in 14th place - two points above the drop zone.