AFC – TEHRAN, Nawaf Al Abid’s scrappy first- half goal proved the difference as Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal edged out Iran’s Esteghlal 1-0 at Azadi Stadium on Tuesday to leave all four teams firmly in the hunt for a place in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League from Group D.
Al Abid took full advantage as Esteghlal failed to clear the ball out of their penalty area 11 minutes before half-time as Al Hilal gained revenge for last week’s 2-1 home defeat by Esteghlal.
And with Qatar’s Al Rayyan snatching a 2-1 win over UAE Pro League leaders Al Ain, all four teams in Group D are separated by just three points with two games remaining.
Despite the defeat Esteghlal still top of the table a point clear of both Al Ain and Al Hilal with Al Rayyan just two points further off the pace ahead of the penultimate round of fixtures in two weeks which sees Al Hilal entertain Al Ain, while Al Rayyan travel to Iran to face Esteghlal.
“I’d like to extend my congratulations to my players,” said Al Hilal coach Zlatko Dalic.
“Esteghlal proved that they are a very strong team and created their chances in the game, but we had more chances and we could have scored more.
“It is obvious that the first leg result was frustrating for us, but we made up for that home loss tonight.
“We had foreseen the atmosphere in Azadi stadium and could guess how awesome it would be. We did play a nice brand of football, one-two passes and ran the ball on the floor.”
The crucial goal arrived after 34 minutes as Esteghlal’s Javad Nekounam attempted to clear the ball just inside the penalty area following a run from Al Hilal captain Yasser Al Qahtani.
But Nekounam only managed to hit the back of team-mate Hanif Omranzadeh and the ball broke kindly for Al Abid, who took full advantage by beating Esteghlal goalkeeper Mahdi Rahmati from inside the six-yard area.
Esteghlal coach Amir Ghalenoei was disappointed with his side’s poor performance that saw them miss an opportunity to pull clear in the group.
“We didn’t kick off the game very well,” said the former Iran international coach. “We won some corner kicks in the beginning, but we were fatigued and complacent from last week’s win in Riyadh.
“I’d warned before the game that we should stop enjoying the victory in Saudi Arabia and we should shift our attention to this game. But regretfully, my players were still proud of that win.
“Our chance is still there. We’re leading the group and now, we’ve got to think about our next game against Al Rayyan, our important Iranian league matches and the title race.”
Below you can find the match highlights from PFDC TV.