February 21 – Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal took a step closer to retaining their AFC Champions League title with a 3-1 win over the UAE’s Shabab Al Ahli Dubai in Qatar at the Al Janoub Stadium.
In the other west zone round-of-16 tie, Iran’s Foolad Khouzestan beat Saudi Arabia’s Al Faisaly 1-0 at the Al Thumama Stadium.
Al Hilal (pictured), following on from their finals appearance at the Club World Cup against Real Madrid earlier this year, are looking to win the AFC Champions League title for the third time in four years. The next game will be their fourth quarter-final appearance in six years.
The 3-1 scoreline was not as straightforward as it suggests though. Al Hilal’s first goal came in the 17th minute when Moussa Marega fed Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo who hammered the ball into the bottom corner.
There then followed a long passage of play where both sides could have scored and Shabab Al Ahli could easily have gone into the half time break level.
It wasn’t until the 72nd minute that Al Hilal scored their second when Korea Republic defender Jang Hyun-soo headed in his own rebound off the crossbar. Luciano Vietto made it 3-0 with a tap in six minutes later.
Omar Khribin pulled one back for Shabab Al Ahli and struck the woodwork later in added time, but it was not enough.
Al Hilal head coach Ramon Diaz wasn’t totally satisfied with their performance saying that lapses in concentration allowed UAE’s Al Shabab opportunities. The Argentine said this would be worked on ahead of Thursday’s quarter-finals.
Captain Sasan Ansari’s second-half goal was the difference as Foolad Khouzestan eased past Al Faisaly 1-0 into the next round.
Al Faisaly stood out as the only second division club to have progressed this far, they were also the only debutants remaining in the competition.
Fooled Khouzestan will face Al Hilal and Al Duhail SC of Qatar will play Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab in the quarter finals to be played on February 23. The semi-final (the regional west final) will be played on February 26.
Awaiting the winner of that match is Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds who beat Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on penalties in the East zone semi-final back in August last year.
The final will be played over two legs. The first will be in the West Zone on April 26 with the second in Saitama, Japan, on May 6.
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