DOHA: Saudi giants Al Hilal (pix) booked their spot for the Asian Champions League quarter-finals with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Iranian Esteghlal on Monday.
The 2019 champions beat Bafetimbi Gomis and Salem al-Dawsari on either side of the break in Dubai to become the first team to participate in the last eight phases of the Covid-19 impacted tournament.
The Asian Football Confederation reduced the knockout phase to a single match to make up for lost time, with the last 16 matches scheduled to end over three days and ending on Wednesday.
Al Hilal won the title two years ago, but was drastically excluded from the tournament last year after several players tested positive for the coronavirus. They have now qualified for the last eight five times in eight years.
But on Monday they were clearly a cut above Esteghlal who fielded several new players after 12 from the squad that played in previous rounds left the club ahead of the new Iran Pro League season.
The revamped side tested the accomplished Saudis.
Siavash Yazdani shot a wide header in the 16th minute and later Al goalkeeper Hilal Abdullah al-Mayouf had to do his best to stop a thunderous volley from Amir Arsalan Motahari.
Al Hilal broke the deadlock in the 39th minute, with Gomis living up to his reputation as one of Asian football’s most feared strikers.
Mohammad Moradmand slipped while trying to stop a pass from Matheus Pereira and Gomis took full advantage of a nice lob to beat goalkeeper Esteghlal Hossein Hosseini.
Al Hilal was even more dominant in the second half with al-Dawsari testing Hosseini early. The young Saudi star then scored in the 56th minute, scoring with ease on a pass from Frenchman Moussa Marega. – AFP