Not many could visualise the outcome of last night’s performance by Al Ittihad at King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh. The oldest club in the Saudi Arabia managed to oust a more experienced Al Shabab team 4-1 on aggregate with a lineup that could be mistaken for its U-21 squad.
The visitors had previously won the first leg at home in a controversial match that ended in a 1-0 score line in favour of the Al Ittihad thanks to captain, 26 year old Mukthar Fallatah’s efforts.
The second leg saw Mukhtar show his finishing skill again as he skill-fully placed a low driven shot with his left.
Realising the urgency, Al Shabab began pressing the opposition in an effort to get back in the game, but with little to no real threat for goalkeeper Fawaz Al Qarni, who managed to shove away everything that came his way.
The presence high-up on the pitch had to be taken advantage of. Al Ittihad struck again when Mukhtar Fallatah’s back heel put Fahad Al Muwallad clear on goal, which was finished calmly to give the visitors a 2 – 0 lead.
The hosts finally managed to pull back one in the 80th minute through Abdul Majeed Al Ruwaili, however it was a little too late, as they needed 3 more goals in the space of 10 minutes. Al Muwallad made it 3 – 1 in injury time as he finished a one-on-one with Waleed Abdullah with a cheeky chip that sent Al Ittihad to the quarterfinals in style.
The two-time AFC Champions League champions haven’t had the best of seasons in 2013/2014 having finished 6th in the league, and exiting both domestic cups in modest manner. Even the most optimistic of fans of Al Ittihad could not have imagined them reaching the knockout stage of the tournament, let alone get to the next round.
Credit goes to the newly appointed manager, Khalid Al Koroni. Appointed as a temporary caretaker only in February, Al Koroni managed to turn Al Ittihad’s season around if at least in the tournament that the club’s faithful hold so dear. At the moment, his men have salvaged some of the club’s pride, and kept the hope alive for at least a few more months.