Al Ittihad storm into AFC Champions League final
NAGOYA: Two-time champions Al Ittihad moved within a match of regaining their AFC Champions League title on Wednesday when they defeated Japan's Nagoya Grampus 2-1 in the semi-finals.
The Saudi giants, who won the tournament in 2004 and 2005, built on their emphatic 6-2 first leg victory for an 8-3 aggregate win with Saleh Al-Saqri and Amine Chermiti finding the target.
In the final on November 7 in Tokyo, they will play either South Korea's Pohang Steelers or Qatari minnows Umm-Salal who contest their second leg in Doha later in the day.
Pohang go into the game with a 2-0 lead.
Knowing they needed at least four goals to go through, Nagoya started the game with three forwards, including Australian international Josh Kennedy and Keiji Tamada.
They held the initiative early on with Kennedy's header in the 33rd minute hitting the bar, while Tamada had a chance soon after.
But the Saudis soon got in the game and took the lead when Nagoya goalkeeper Toru Hasegawa failed to collect a shot and defender Al-Saqri pounced on the loose ball to fire a close-range goal three minutes before half-time.
They doubled their lead on 59 minutes when skipper Mohammed Noor, who scored a hat-trick in the first leg, sent a pin-point pass through to Chermiti who comfortably headed home.
Despite facing an impossible task, Nagoya didn't give up and their efforts finally paid dividends when substitute Keita Sugimoto unleashed a spectacular overhead shot, which flashed past Saudi goalkeeper Mobrouk Zayed.
That completed the scoring, leaving the home crowd disappointed and Al Ittihad looking forward to yet another final.
Nagoya's Serbian coach Dragan Stojkovic admitted the best side won.
"Unfortunately we lost, but in football you have to create a chance to score. We didn't score enough, we didn't take our chances, and after the mistakes, we lost the game," he said.
"But I'm very satisfied with the behaviour of my players. To be in the best four, it's really a good result, and the semi-finals, we lost in the first leg, not today. We lost in Jeddah 6-2.
"Al Ittihad were a better team. Congratulations."