Anderson Talisca Carry Al-Nassr to Group Stage
Saudi Pro League team Al-Nassr orchestrated a remarkable late comeback securing their spot in the group stage draw for the Asian Champions League. Anderson Talisca’s impressive brace led them to a 4-2 victory over Shabab Al-Ahli from the United Arab Emirates in Riyadh on Tuesday.
Talisca paved the way for Al-Nassr with an early 11th-minute goal, heading in a corner delivered by Marcelo Brozovic. However, Yahya Al Ghassani struck twice in the 18th and 46th minutes, propelling the 2015 runners-up into the lead and placing the lavishly-funded Saudi team in jeopardy of elimination from the competition.
Yet, in the 88th minute, Sultan Al Ghannam’s header brought the scores level, and in the fifth minute of injury time, Talisca secured his second goal, propelling Al-Nassr back into the lead. Just two minutes later, Brozovic sealed the victory with a well-placed shot from the edge of the penalty area, thus confirming Al-Nassr’s berth in Thursday’s draw.
Uzbekistan’s Navbahor also advanced to the next round with a hard-fought 1-0 win against Qatar’s 10-man Al-Wakrah. Doniyor Abdumannopov found the net eight minutes into extra time following Khaled Youssef Shurrab’s dismissal.
Joining the draw alongside Navbahor is UAE’s Sharjah, who dealt a decisive blow to their Iranian hosts, Tractor FC, securing a 3-1 victory in Tabriz. Shaheen Abdalla and Ousmane Camara gave Cosmin Olaroiu’s team a comfortable two-goal advantage. While Mehdi Hashemnejad pulled one back with four minutes remaining, Caio Lucas put the result beyond doubt from the penalty spot in the dying minutes.
Uzbekistan’s AGMK completed the group stage lineup after Ruben Sanchez’s 69th-minute strike secured a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Qatari side Al-Arabi.
Skorza eyes redemption
Urawa Red Diamonds’ coach, Maciej Skorza, aims to rectify a longstanding blemish on his record as he guides the Japanese team into the Asian Champions League group stages next month, a stain that has persisted for over a decade.
The reigning champions solidified their position in Thursday’s draw by securing a 3-0 victory over Hong Kong’s Lee Man on Tuesday. Skorza is now set to lead the team in their pursuit of a historic fourth continental title.
Skorza previously led Urawa to success in the Asian Champions League final against Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal in May. He took over from Ricardo Rodriguez five months prior, having already guided the team through the group phase to the final match.
Although the Polish coach holds an Asian Champions League winner’s medal, he remains determined to make amends for a past personal shortcoming in the competition.
“This participation in the group stage is crucial for our club and also, I believe, for Japanese football,” stated Skorza.
“However, for me, this day holds particular significance due to my experience in the Champions League about a decade ago when I was coaching Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia. We participated in the group stage, but we failed to advance from the group. Now, I have the opportunity to take this step forward.”
Al-Ettifaq faced elimination at the end of the group phase in 2013, landing third behind Qatar’s Lekhwiya and Al-Shabab Al-Ahli from the United Arab Emirates.
Upon completing his sole season in Saudi Arabia, Skorza reestablished himself in Poland, achieving victory in the league with Lech Poznan in 2014-15, and once more in 2021-22 during another tenure with the club, before embarking on his journey to Japan to assume leadership at Urawa.
With the group stage commencing on September 18, the 51-year-old emphasized the need for his team to remain focused on the upcoming challenges.
“In the meeting before the game, I highlighted that just about four months ago, we celebrated our victory in the Champions League final,” he articulated.
“To replicate this scenario, we had to take the first step.”
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