(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Fanja failed to capitalise on the home advantage, but hung on to a slim chance of making it to the knockout stage after it was held to a goalless draw by Al Jaish of Syria in its penultimate Group B game in the AFC Cup at the Seeb Sports Stadium on Wednesday.
With Lebanese club Nejmeh also sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw with group topper Kuwait SC in the day's other match in Beirut, the race for the second spot in order to advance from the group remains open. Defending champion Kuwait SC, with ten points from five games, is already through to the knockout stage, but Fanja and Nejmeh have six points each.
Nejmeh is second on head-tohead basis and better goal difference against Fanja, having earlier defeated the Omani club 1-0. Fanja has a tough task as it takes on fancied Kuwait in an away game in Kuwait City on April 23. On the same day, Nejmeh takes on Jaish in Beirut. The Syrian club is at the bottom with three points and is out of contention.
On Wednesday, Jaish played with a tight defence right from the start, but that didn't stop its players from occasionally making inroads deep into the home team's half, especially from the left flank. Jaish went close to scoring in the 32nd minute when Baha al Karout's attempt to score was warded off by goalkeeper Ahmed al Hattali.
Mohammad Ali's effort off the subsequent rebound saw the ball sail narrowly over the bar. Six minutes later, it was Fanja's turn to scare its opponent. Mukhlid al Ruqadi got close to scoring after taking a long pass from the deep but his header missed the top left corner. In the second half, which also began slowly, the visitors got an opportunity to score in the 51st minute when a sharp header from Adnan al Taki was saved by Hattali.Five minutes later, it was Fanja's turn to rue a missed chance when national team midfielder Raeed Ibrahim couldn't execute his header properly.
Two minutes from the hour mark, Fanja had a close shave when a low free-kick from Taki from just outside the goal area hit the right post. Soon after, Fanja's Cameroonian striker Ely Cisse came in for Mohammed al Ghassani as the home team desperately looked for a goal, but not too many chances followed thereafter.
A dejected Mohsin al Kharusi, Fanja's interim coach, said, ''We played well today. But we were unlucky. I am not keeping anybody's hopes up; it now seems a tough bet for us to reach the knockout stage. Instead, we will focus on the Omantel Professional League (OPL) at the moment and chalk out a better plan for next season.''
Meanwhile, Fanja club officials announced that experienced Italian coach Guglielmo Arena will take charge of the side from Thursday, replacing Spain's Hicham Jadrane, who quit last week. The 40 year old Arena had earlier served as coach of UAE side Al Arouba and Singapore's champion Etoile FC.Suwaiq meets Ravshan
Oman's other club in the AFC Cup, Al Suwaiq, will take on FC Ravshan in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe on Thursday.
Both the teams are out of contention after Lebanon's Safa SC (13) and Jordan's That Ras (10) drew their match 0-0 on Wednesday to advance from the Group A. Suwaiq has three points, while Ravshan has zero points.