RIYADH: Anderson Talisca stepped up on Tuesday night in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, scoring a memorable hat-trick as Al-Nassr won 3-2 at Al-Duhail to maintain their 100 percent record in this season’s Asian Champions League and, with two games left to play in the group stage, move within a whisker of securing their place in the knockout rounds.
It was not quite a repeat of the thrilling 4-3 victory in Riyadh against the same Qatari opposition in October but it was a fine win nonetheless — the 16th in their last 17 games — and greatly inspired by the in-form Brazilian.
Al-Nassr have a maximum 12 points from their four Group E games so far and sit five points clear of Persepolis of Iran in second, needing just one point from their last two group games to be sure of progressing to the next round.
Ronaldo was being rested on Tuesday, according to coach Luis Castro, and perhaps it was because their captain was missing but the nine-time Saudi champions took a little time to get going in Doha. Indeed, Philippe Coutinho had the home fans in the crowd of more than 36,000 fans at Khalifa International Stadium on their feet after only eight minutes. Michael Olunga bundled over Mohammed Al-Fatil — the visitors felt was a foul but play continued — and delivered a low cross that was swept home by the former Liverpool and Barcelona star.
That pair continued to cause problems for Al-Nassr throughout the game and, soon after the opening goal, Olunga failed to connect properly with a header that could have extended Al-Duhail’s lead.
Instead, Al-Nassr equalized in the 27th minute thanks to a lovely strike. Talisca, who earlier went close with a header from an Alex Telles cross, exchanged passes with the lively Abdulrahman Ghareeb and, while still outside the area, spun his defender and drilled a low shot into the bottom corner.
Ten minutes later the Brazilian struck again, finding much the same spot. This time it was from even farther out, after he was fed by Sadio Mane. The Qatari defense backed off, giving Talisca too much space and he did not need any further invitation, unleashing another powerful low shot from about 30 meters. They were two excellent strikes to put the visitors into the lead.
In response, Al-Duhail tried to push forward and Nawaf Al-Aqidi had to make saves to deny Olunga, who really should have have scored, and Almoez Ali. The misses proved costly as they found themselves even further behind after 65 minutes. Once again, Talisca swapped passes with Ghareeb but this time the exchange was inside the area and he finished off the move by firing home his third. He is now the leading scorer in the tournament, with eight goals.
Ten minutes later, however, Al-Duhail were back in the game. Coutinho’s shot was blocked in the area by the arm of a sliding Marcelo Brozovic, whose booking means he will miss the next match, and the Brazilian fired home from the penalty spot.
The Qataris, who were defeated by Al-Hilal in the semi finals of the tournament last season, continued to push forward but were unable to get the equalizing goal and their hopes were dashed by a late red card for Khalid Mohammed, who had only recently been introduced as a substitute.
There was still time for Al-Nassr to come close to definitively sealing the win with a fourth goal but, after some fine work from Mane, Ayman Yahya hit the post from close range.
A draw against Persepolis on the Nov. 27 will be enough for Al-Nassr to book their place in the next stage, while Al-Duhail, still yet to win in this year’s tournament, were officially eliminated.
Earlier, Al-Fayha’s chances of qualifying for the knockout stage as one of the six-best runners-up, alongside the 10 group winners, were left hanging by a thread after a 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Al-Ain of the UAE. The result leaves them bottom of the group on three points, nine points adrift of Al-Ain and one point behind Uzbek side Pakhtakor and Ahal of Turkmenistan.