Al Nasr and Ittihad Kalba players in action during their AGC semi-final match.
Gulf Today, Staff Report
Federico Cartabia scored a brace and Igor De Cruz added one more as Shabab Al Ahli defeated Al Wasl 3-1 to set up the Arabian Gulf Cup final showdown with Al Nasr with an aggregate 5-1 victory on Monday. Fabio Lima scored one to save Al Wasl blushes.
Earlier, a resilient Al Nasr held their nerve to beat Ittihad Kalba 7-6 via a penalty shootout to book their berth in the final of the Arabian Gulf Cup (AGC) after the aggregate scores were tied at 3-3 each in the second leg of the semi-final.
The match went into the penalties after Al Nasr beat Kalba 2-1 in the regular time to make it 3-3 aggregate in the second leg. In the first-leg, Kalba had defeated Al Nasr 2-1 to take a one-away goal lead.
Al Nasr produced a scintillating performance to overturn a one-away goal deficit and force the game into the penalty shootout. Riding on a sublime show by Ryan Mendes and Dia Saba, Al Nasr lived up the billing of being the title holders and kept their hopes of re-writing the history alive as they seek to become the first team to win the AGC title twice in succession.
No team has won the AGC title in consecutive seasons. Al Nasr are the current champions and they are still on course to add another feather to their cap by beating Kalba, who were fancying their chances of a first-ever appearance in the final of the prestigious tournament.
Al Nasr played a firebrand football right from the beginning and mounted the pressure on the hosts, who had defeated them 2-1 in the first leg match of the semi-finals to take a vital one-away goal lead.
Both the teams were trying hard to break the duck and take a lead. But none of them could penetrate the tight defence of each other.
Al Nasr were trying harder to attack and curtail the deficit of while Kalba looked more in the defensive mode to maintain their lead. It was Mendes, who gave Al Nasr the first breakthrough by breaking the deadlock in the 39th minute. He headed from the very close range to the centre of the goal over the head of the goalkeeper to put Al Nasr 1-0 ahead.
After the first goal, a charged-up Al Nasr started to attack more vehemently to mount the pressure on their opponents. Kalba were striving to restore the parity.
Saba wasted a glorious chance to double the Blues’ lead when his close-range strike hit the woodwork three minutes before the break.
He got his name onto the score sheet two minutes later as he fired a powerful long-range effort into the back of the net, leaving keeper Abdulla helpless and handing Al Nasr a 3-2 aggregate advantage ahead of the second half. Saba had come close to scoring a second goal five minutes after the restart, but his long-range went inches away from goal.
The Tigers piled pressure on Al Nasr defence and had two great chances to score. Just after the one-hour mark, Ahmed Amer’s right-footed drive was parried away by Shambih, before Abdul Salam Mohamed headed narrowly wide.
After reviewing the VAR, Ittihad Kalba were awarded a penalty for a foul by Mohamed Ayed. In-form forward Peniel Mlapa stepped up and converted from the spot to tie the score at 3-3 on aggregate.
He converted a penalty with a right-footed shot to the bottom left corner of the post to bring some respite to their camp. Now the aggregate score were tied and Kalba could once once again fancy their chances.
VAR is relatively a new technology in football which being used by the referees around the world to overturn or uphold their decisions after consulting it with the TV referee, who sees the action in slow motion to come to a conclusion.
Earlier, Al Nasr started attacking through Mendes. Mendes’ right-footed shot from outside the box was blocked by Mahmoud Khamis but that did not deter the striker. He again attempted another shot from outside the box, which wide of the net to the right and scored remained 0-0.
Meanwhile, Al Nasr’s new coach Ramon Diaz is eyeing his first silverware by winning the AGC title. Al Nasr had sacked coach former boss Krunoslav Jurcic after a series of losses in the Arabian Gulf League had derailed their campaign.
AL Nasr had lifted AGC crown under the former coach Jurcic by beating Shabab Al Ahli.
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