Al Wahda clung onto their first AFC Champions League point in six years but were lucky to do so against the battling 10 men of Al Hilal.
The Saudi Arabian giants, Group D leaders, seemed to be reinvigorated after the harsh dismissal of goalscorer Nawaf Al Abid on the hour mark and will feel they did enough to take all three points.
Only a couple of brilliant reaction saves from Clarets goalkeeper Rashed Ali ensured Javier Aguirre’s side kept their hands on a point as well their slim hopes of making the knockout stages.
The 2007 semi-finalists had battled back from going a goal behind inside five minutes through fine Sebastian Tagliabue and Balasz Dzsudzsak strikes, only to be pegged back by former Al Dhafra forward Omar Khrbin before surviving a late onslaught.
“It was a tough game. Al Hilal are a very good team with good players and played well even with 10 men,” said Wahda coach Javier Aguirre.
“We didn’t deserve to equalise in the first half but we were better in the second half and had chances, scored another goal, and I was calm.
“They scored and after that we knew we had to win so there was a bit of disorder. Everyone wanted to score and we gave them chances to score. We tried to win and we almost lost.”
Hilal coach Ramon Diaz, the former Argentina international, was proud of the spirit his side showed.
“It was tough in the second half and dramatic,” said the former Paraguay coach.
“The first half we scored and took control of the game. One counter attack and they scored. We came back and even with 10 players we were organised and created opportunities and could have won the game.”
The visitors capitalised on a lively opening. Salem Sultan failed to cut out Mohammed Al Burayk’s low cross and Saudi international Al Abid gleefully tucked home.
Wahda weathered the storm though and after Dzsudzsak’s rasping free-kick was spectacularly tipped over by Abdullah Al Maiouf, Wahda were thrown a lifeline in first half injury time via a superb equaliser from their talisman Tagliabue.
Nothing looked on as right back Mohammed Al Menhali pumped a long ball forward, but the Argentine gave chase and beat Abdullah Al Hafith for pace before rifling a fierce shot under goalkeeper Al Maiouf under pressure from the covering Osama Hawsawi.
A lifeline turned into a lead nine minutes into the second half when Dzsudzsak raised the roof of Al Nahyan Stadium with a stunning shot that almost took the roof of the net off.
Hilal failed to clear Matar’s free-kick and the Hungary skipper fired in via a deflection.
Wahda’s cause was aided further on the hour mark when Al Abid was dismissed for collecting a second yellow card. It was a laughable decision, with referee Ryuji Sato deeming he had brought down Al Menhali.
The smiles on Wahda faces didn’t last long though as the 10 men equalised. Former Western Knights attacker Khrbin keeping his composure to net after a delightful first-time ball from Abdullah Otayf.
From that point on the depleted visitors took a grip of the game, looking extremely dangerous on the break as Wahda went in search of the three points realistically required for progression from the group.
The Saudis survived a goalmouth scramble before Ali came to the fore, brilliantly thwarting Hilal substitute Salem Al Dawsari after he danced his way through two tackles.
Even better followed as he clawed away Otayf’s fierce effort headed for the top corner.
There was still time for more drama as the game entered stoppage time. One of the Hilal coaching staff was then sent to the stands for remonstrating with the linesman before Salman Al Faraj sent a glancing header just wide and Al Dawsari’s cross evaded two team-mates inside the six yard box.
As the final whistle sounded, Wahda would have felt relief at hanging on, but will wonder how they failed to finish off the 10 men.
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