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Soccer-Hilal advance after Al Sadd striker gamble draws a blank

Reuters

Aug 27 (Reuters) - Al Sadd's gamble on the fitness of forwards Khalfan Ibrahim and Muriqui failed to pay off as the Qataris exited the AFC Champions League at the quarter-final stage following a goalless draw at home to Al Hilal on Tuesday.

The Saudi Arabian side will take on Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates in the last four after advancing 1-0 on aggregate, courtesy of Salman Al-Faraj's stunning strike in the first leg in Riyadh last week.

There had been little attacking intent from 2011 winners Al Sadd in the first encounter but the introduction of Brazilian Muriqui, who top-scored in the competition last year for former club Guangzhou Evergrande, was meant to change that.

The striker, though, never looked comfortable on a terrible surface at the Sheikh Jassem bin Hamad Stadium, which cut up badly and denied both teams an opportunity to play a free-flowing, passing game.

Muriqui, who only joined the Qataris last month from the Chinese champions, was eventually hauled off in the 70th minute and replaced by Saleh Badr Al Yazidi, who carried more of a threat but was unable to break the deadlock.

The substitute hit the post with a left-foot drive and then wasted a free header in the closing stages, only able to direct his effort straight at Al Hilal goalkeeper Abdullah Mohamed Al Sdairy.

UNFIT STRIKERS

"I had two strikers - Khalfan Ibrahim and Muriqui - who have not been ready for the last month," Al Sadd coach Lhoussanine Ammouta told reporters.

"I put them in the starting line-up to try to do something.

"Khalfan did his best but I think Muriqui needs more time to be fit. This was a problem for us, because the two of them were not fit and that's why we couldn't score."

The Moroccan coach praised the efforts of the 21-year-old Al Yazidi but wished the chances had fallen to one of his more experienced players, like former Asian Player of the Year Ibrahim.

"He did very well. He had two chances but with his inexperience and in a hard game like this, maybe it was too difficult for a young player to score," Ammouta said.

"He tried his best to help the team, but a game of this nature requires players with a lot of experience.

"In a game like this, you will only have three or four chance to score and if you don't take at least one of them then you have to say congratulations to the other team."

Al Hilal coach Laurentiu Reghecampf was pleased with the efforts of his side, who again looked the better side with Romanian midfielder Mihai Pintilii a particular menace.

Pintilii's drive from distance at the end of the first half, which was tipped over the bar, was the closest the visitors came to scoring.

"It was a very difficult match, as I thought it would be before the game," the Romanian coach said. "The field was very bad for both teams, not just for us. It was a very bad field.

"But for now, me and my players just want to enjoy this moment and then we will think about the next game." (Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O'Brien)

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