Portuguese coach Antonio Oliveira of Saudi giants Al Ittihad has been sacked
Saudi giants Al Ittihad have gambled by sacking their coach Antonio Oliveira (pictured) just days before this week's AFC Champions League last 16, as they aim for a third title in the continental showpiece. © Daniel Mihailescu - AFP/File
Portuguese coach Antonio Oliveira of Saudi giants Al Ittihad has been sacked
Talek Harris, AFP
Last updated: February 6, 2012

Saudis sack football coach before Asia knock-outs

Saudi giants Al Ittihad have gambled by sacking their coach just days before this week's AFC Champions League last 16, as they aim for a third title in the continental showpiece.

The 2004 and 2005 winners and 2009 runners-up romped into the knock-out phase with two games to spare, setting up a clash with country rivals Al Hilal in Jeddah on Tuesday.

But Portuguese coach Antonio Oliveira paid the price for Al Ittihad's failure to land domestic silverware as they finished 13 points behind Riyadh-based Al Hilal, who sealed a league and cup double.

Former coach Dimitri Davidovic, a naturalised Belgian who was born in the former Yugoslavia, now returns for his fourth spell at the club at a crucial time as Al Ittihad aim for their fourth Champions League quarter-finals.

"I had full knowledge about the important match in the ACL against Al Hilal before I came here," said Davidovic, who has coached Al Ittihad to three Saudi championships and an Asian Cup Winners’ Cup title.

"I know I can get a positive result."

Gamba and Cerezo will play an all-Osaka clash in southwestern Japan on Tuesday while South Korea's Jeonbuk Motors take on Tianjin Teda of China and Iran's Sepahan host Uzbek outfit Bunyodkor.

"It’s a pity that we now have to play against a Japanese side, but we focused on nothing but winning the group," said Gamba coach Akira Nishino.

On Wednesday, the competition's top-scorer Ha Tae-Goon will hope to add to his six goals as Suwon Bluewings entertain Japanese champions Nagoya Grampus at home.

South Korean title-holders FC Seoul take on Japan's Kashima Antlers and Saudi's Al Shabab and Al Nassr travel to Qatar's Al Sadd and Zobahan of Iran respectively in Wednesday's other fixtures.

All four Japanese teams reached the knock-out phase despite the horrific March 11 earthquake and tsunami which forced a six-week suspension of the J-League and badly damaged Kashima's stadium.

Asian's premier club competition has become dominated by South Korean and Japanese teams with no Middle Eastern winner since Al Ittihad completed their back-to-back wins in 2005.

The tournament will take a nearly four-month break after this week's games before returning in September for the quarter-finals, followed by the semis a month later and the final in November.

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