Al Ittihad’s Hazazi dreaming of ACL success

Al Ittihad’s Hazazi dreaming of ACL success

With a pair of headers in the latter stages of their 4-2 AFC Champions League quarter-final first leg win over China’s Guangzhou Evergrande last week, Naif Hazazi underlined his ever-burgeoning reputation in front of goal.

Naif Hazazi scored twice as two-time winners Al Ittihad beat Guangzhou Evergrande 4-2 in the first leg

And now, as he and his team-mates prepare for the second leg in Guangzhou on Tuesday evening that could take them into a record fifth AFC Champions League semi-final, the 23-year-old is hoping his club’s run will see them go on to pick up a record third title.

“To be champions of Asia, it’s the dream of any player in any team and when you get to be champion it’s the way to go to the FIFA Club World Cup,” said Hazazi.

“It’s a famous competition and we want to play there against the top players in the world.”

Al Ittihad became the first – and so far only – club to win the AFC Champions League in consecutive years, claiming the title in 2004 and 2005, the second time to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup, where they reached the semi-finals after defeating Al Ahly from Egypt before losing narrowly to Brazilian side Sao Paulo.

The Jeddah-based club also progressed to the AFC Champions League final in 2009 but, with a place at the club world championship in their sights, the Saudis lost out to Pohang Steelers from Korea Republic in Tokyo.

Hazazi missed that match due to injury as Pohang ran out 2-1 winners, but the young forward takes a philosophical view towards watching his team-mates slip to defeat.

“Before the game I was injured so I wasn’t able to play but I was hoping the team would win. It’s not good to go to the final and lose,” said the Saudi Arabia international striker.

“It was very stressful to be injured before the game because I was hoping I could do something. But we have to respect the outcome and this is what happened. There’s nothing we can do about it, it’s not in our hands unfortunately.”

Al Ittihad’s run to the quarter-finals of this year’s competition comes despite a disappointing showing in the domestic league last season, with a fifth-placed finish meaning they have missed out on a place in the next year’s AFC Champions League.

As a result, Hazazi believes Al Ittihad are more motivated than ever to succeed in this year’s AFC Champions League.

“Asian competition always means something different for Al Ittihad players than other competitions, so we always try that bit harder,” he said.

“When we are playing in Asia, we are not thinking about anything else, about any of the problems. We are just thinking about winning because playing in Asia is like a baby for us, we want to do well in this competition and win the AFC Champions League.

“When we play in Asia, it opens the eyes of the whole world and this is the way, too, for the players.

“The whole world sees this competition and can see the players inside and for the players and the club it’s more important than the local league. It’s very important for Al Ittihad.”

Al Ittihad take on Guangzhou on October 2 in the second leg of their AFC Champions League quarter-finals tie at Tianhe Stadium on the same day Saudi colleagues Al Ahli meet Sepahan from Iran in the second leg of their encounter in Jeddah following a scoreless draw in the opening match.

The following day Korea Republic’s Ulsan Hyundai travel to Riyadh to defend their 1-0 lead from the first leg against Al Hilal, while Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor and Adelaide United go head-to-head in Tashkent after a 2-2 draw in the first leg in Australia last week.

Quarter-Finals First Legs - 19/09/12

Al Ittihad (KSA) 4-2 Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN)
Diego De Souza 28, Mohammed Noor 49, Naif Hazazi 62, 89; Gao Lin 27, Huang Bowen 39

Sepahan (IRN) 0-0 Al Ahli (KSA)

Adelaide United (AUS) 2-2 Bunyodkor (UZB)
Iain Ramsey 7, Evan Kostopoulos 16; Jasur Khasanov 44, Shavkat Salomov 75

Ulsan Hyundai (KOR) 1-0 Al Hilal (KSA)
Rafinha 10

Second Legs - 02/10/12
Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) v Al Ittihad (KSA)
Al Ahli (KSA) v Sepahan (IRN)

Second Legs - 03/10/12
Bunyodkor (UZB) v Adelaide United (AUS)
Al Hilal (KSA) v Ulsan Hyundai (KOR)

Semi-Finals (First Legs 24/10/12 - Second Legs 31/10/12)
Al Ittihad (KSA)/Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) v Sepahan (IRN)/Al Ahli (KSA)
Bunyodkor (UZB)/Adelaide United (AUS) v Al Hilal (KSA)/Ulsan Hyundai (KOR)

World Sport Group

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