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Saudi giants stunned by Tajiks in Asian Champions League

By AFP - Apr 25,2021 - Last updated at Apr 25,2021

DOHA — Saudi giants Al Hilal crashed to a humiliating 4-1 defeat against Istiqlol in the Asian Champions League on Saturday, a result that boosted the Tajik side’s chances of qualifying for the knockout stage.

Three-times continental champs Al Hilal had beaten Istiqlol 3-1 on Wednesday but were in for a massive shock in the return.

Russian-born midfielder Manuchekhr Dzhalilov and Manuchehr Safarov each grabbed a brace at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahad Stadium in Jeddah.

Al Hilal, who last won the tournament in 2019 but were kicked out last year following a spate of coronavirus infections in the squad that left them without enough players, showed early intent on Saturday.

They opened their account through a header from French striker Bafetimbi Gomis in the 34th minute.

But that was the only bright moment for the Saudi side as Dzhalilov struck twice in the span of six minutes to give Istiqlol a 2-1 lead at half-time.

When play resumed, Istiqlol continued to build pressure and it paid off with Safarov taking charge this time. 

The 19-year-old defender made it 3-1 in the 49th minute with his intended cross from the right dropping into the goal stunning goalkeeper Abdulla al-Maiouf.

Safarov completed his double four minutes later with a powerful low shot after receiving a pass from Rustom Soirov to leave the Saudis, who were hugely favoured to top Group A, stunned.

In another match, the UAE’s Shabab Al Ahli defeated Uzbekistan’s AGMK 3-1 to join Al Hilal and Istiqlol on seven points and leave Group A wide open.

Only the group winners and three best second-placed teams make the last 16 phase.

Harib Suhail, Carlos Eduardo and Ahmed Hashmi scored for Shabab in the first half while Shohruh Gadoev accounted for AGMK’s only goal of the match.

In Group C, Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli kept alive their slim hopes of qualifying for the knockout phase with a 2-1 win over Iraq’s Al Shorta.

Abdulrahman Ghareeb’s 79th minute goal clinched three points for the two-time runners-up at their home ground at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, one of the three bio-secure hubs in Saudi Arabia where the west zone matches of the tournament are being played.

Syrian striker Omar Al Somah had given the Saudis a fifth minute lead, scoring from inside the six-yard box off a Driss Fettouhi corner.

But their joy was short-lived as Fahad Youssef restored parity in the 26th minute after he gathered the ball following a free-kick and blasted it past goalkeeper Mohamed Al Owais.

After several close chances for both teams, Ghareeb made amends for his miss earlier with a low shot from a pass from Somah to seal Al Ahli’s second victory over the Iraqis, who crashed out of the tournament with their fourth consecutive defeat.

Also in Group C, Qatar’s Al Duhail and Iran’s Esteghlal played out a 2-2 draw at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.

Michael Olunga, who had scored a hat-trick against Esteghlal three days ago when Al Duhail won 4-3, again excelled for the Qataris.

He scored two goals with the result consolidating his team’s position at the top with eight points.


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