Former champion Al Hilal made it into the knockout round of the Asian Champions League on Friday with a narrow margin, when the 2019 winners were one of the best runners-up in the last 16 despite a 2-0 defeat against Shabab Al advanced Ahli.
Igor Jesu’s brace earned the already-eliminated club from the United Arab Emirates all three points in Riyadh, but a 1-1 draw between Al Duhail from Qatar and Al Ahli from Saudi Arabia meant that Al Hilal would be the last took second place.
Only the 10 group winners of the newly expanded competition are guaranteed to qualify for the round of 16, and the six best runners-up will take part in the knockout rounds.
The clubs in the West Asian half of the draw played the whole thing due to the pandemic April over in central centers. The teams in the east will play their games in June and July.
Al Hilal finished second in Group A behind debutant Istiklol from Tajikistan, who lost 2-1 in the last group match against AGMK from Uzbekistan, but both clubs made progress.
They will be in the next phase of the Competition supported by the Iranian teams Esteghlal and Tractor.
Esteghlal won Group C in Jeddah thanks to a 1-0 win over Iraq’s Al Shorta, while Tractor booked his place in Group B as one of the top three runners-up from West Asia.
The pair join compatriots Persepolis in the next round after confirming their progress as Group E winners on Thursday.
Sharjah of the United Arab Emirates also advanced from Group B to first place on Thursday, while Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia qualified as Group D champions.
Al Wahda, also from the United Arab Emirates, had already claimed one of the runner-ups and left the battle for the two remaining runner-ups on Friday.
The 1-1 draw between Al Duhail and Al Ahli was decisive. Both teams had to win to stay alive.
Michael Olunga gave Al Duhail the lead with a free kick before the Kenyan international missed a penalty in the 67th minute.
Asiri Haitham faced Al Ahli six minutes later and the resulting tie meant Al Hilal snuck in and took third place ahead of Xavi Hernandez’s Al Sadd as he had scored more goals.
The results mean that last year’s defeated finalist Persepolis will face Istiklol in the round of 16 in September. Sharjah faces Al Wahda in a duel between the United Arab Emirates.
In the other two games, Iranian teams will meet clubs from Saudi Arabia. Esteghlal meets Al Hilal and Tractor meets Al Nassr.
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