Unbeaten Al Hilal finish atop Asian Champions League group
Four-time winners Al Hilal ended their Asian Champions League group campaign unbeaten.
RIYADH (AFP) – Four-time winners Al Hilal ended their Asian Champions League group campaign unbeaten thanks to a 2-1 home victory against Iran's Nassaji Mazandaran on Monday.
The Saudi side, runners-up last year, had already qualified for the last 16 as Group D winners, allowing manager Jorge Jesus the luxury of starting in-form striker Aleksandar Mitrovic and attacking midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic on the bench.
Ruben Neves, another summer signing, was not part of the squad, with Brazil superstar Neymar out for the majority of the season after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus in his left knee on international duty in October.
However, Al Hilal needed only four minutes to take the lead against Nassaji Mazandaran at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, when winger Michael finished Mohammed Al Breik's low cross at the back post.
Al Hilal, who replaced Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou at half-time, doubled their advantage on 54 minutes courtesy of a clever half volley from reigning Asian Player of the Year Salem Al Dawsari.
Mitrovic and Milinkovic-Savic were introduced on the hour mark, although it was not enough to prevent Nassaji Mazandaran from pulling a goal back 13 minutes from time. Mahmoud Ghaed Rahmati halved the deficit with a thunderous volley following a clearance from Al Hilal defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
In the group's other match, Uzbekistan’s Navbahor booked their place in the last 16 with a 2-1 victory against Mumbai City in Pune.
While Navbahor progress by finishing second, Mumbai ended their campaign with six defeats from six matches.
In Group B, Uzbek side Nasaf Qarshi qualified for the knockouts by drawing 2-2 against Qatar's Al Sadd in a match that featured a goal for each team in injury-time. UAE club Sharjah, meanwhile, dropped to third and thus exit the tournament after they let slip the lead to lose 2-1 to Jordan's Al Faisaly in Amman.
Elsewhere, Iraq's Air Force Club condemned Uzbekistan's AGMK to a sixth successive Group C defeat with a 3-2 victory in Erbil. Both teams went into the match without any chance of advancing to the knockout rounds. Al Ittihad and Sepahan, who make up the group, kick off later on Monday.
The 10 group winners and the six best second-placed teams advanced to the knockout rounds, which begin in February.
The final takes place, across two legs, in May.