AFC - Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal SFC defeated Esteghlal FC of Islamic Republic of Iran 1-0 to surge to the top of Group C of the 2019 AFC Champions League on Tuesday.
Esteghlal had won the previous encounter 2-1 two weeks ago, but Al Hilal remained top of the group with six points going into Matchday Four.
Zoran Mamic’s men had to wait 16 minutes to get their first sight of goal. Right-back Mohammed Al Buraik crossed for Ali Al Bulayhi at the far post, but the centre-back’s header was saved by Esteghlal goalkeeper Sayed Hosseini.
Hosseini was called into action again halfway through the first 45 minutes. This time it was Nawaf Al Abid who was sent through by a Bafetimbi Gomis flick. The winger applied the finish from an angle, but was denied by the goalkeeper’s boots.
The host continued to dominate as Abdulmalik Al Khaibari and Mohammed Al Shalhoub tried their luck from the edge of the box, but both failed to find the target.
Esteghlal’s biggest chance came just before the break when Godwin Mensha broke free down the right and crossed for Omid Noorafkan who was completely unmarked. The midfielder’s header was straight at goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf who held to the ball as the first half ended in a goalless draw.
The second half started in a similar fashion, but this time Al Hilal were able to capitalize quickly and were in front after just six minutes of the restart.
Nawaf Al Abid picked up a loose ball deep into Esteghlal’s half and sprayed it to Sebastian Giovinco who controlled and rifled from the edge of the box into the top corner for his maiden AFC Champions League goal.
The joy of Al Hilal fans was abruptly ended as Al Abid was shown a red card a minute later for an elbow on Mensha.
Having to play with ten men for over half an hour, Mamic pulled out attacking midfielder Carlos Eduardo and brought on defensive midfielder Mohammed Kanno to shore things up.
The Croatian tactics delivered the desired outcome as Al Hilal held on to defend their lead and walk away with crucial three points despite late attempts from Esmail Goncalves and Noorafkan.
The result means Al Hilal need just one point from their remaining two games to book their place in the knockout stage for the ninth time in the past decade. Esteghlal freeze at four points.
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