Saida: Hammadi Ahmed insists there is still all to play for in the AFC Cup West Asia Zonal final after the Air Force Club forward scored a late goal in a 2-1 first-leg defeat against Syria’s Al Wahda on Tuesday to leave the tie firmly in the balance.
An early strike from Anas Bouta had Al Wahda in front on three minutes at Saida Municipal Stadium before Hadi Al Masri netted shortly after the hour to leave the defending champions with a huge job on their hands to claw their way back into the game.
But Ahmed, who had managed just one goal in the tournament before Tuesday’s encounter, capitalised on a defensive error in the last minute to score what could prove to be a crucial away goal ahead of the second leg in Doha.
“Our physical condition was not up to the mark because we only trained for 10 days after the break,” said Ahmed.
“But the tie is not over and hopefully we can have our say in Qatar.”
The sides went into the clash with plenty of knowledge on each other, having played out back-to-back draws in Group B as both progressed to the West Asia Zonal semi-finals.
They also squared off in the 2016 group stage with Al Wahda winning the first encounter 5-2 and Air Force Club the reverse fixture 1-0.
Ahmed celebrates after his late goal
Ahmed netted 16 times in last year’s competition, including the only goal of the game against India’s JSW Bengaluru in the final as Air Force Club became the first AFC Cup champions from Iraq.
That impressive haul saw him claim the Top Scorer award by an eight-goal margin although the striker, who was also named the tournament’s MVP, has struggled for goals this time round.
But Al Wahda have proved welcome opposition for Ahmed after he netted all three goals against them last year and now boasts four goals in five matches against the Syrian outfit.
“This is football, sometimes we win but other times we lose or draw,” added Ahmed.
“We played them last year during the group stage in Qatar and we won. We then went on to win the title.”
The second leg will take place in two weeks’ time in Doha with the winners set to advance to the 2017 AFC Cup final.
Photos: Lagardère Sports