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Riyadh: Head coach Ramon Diaz has admitted he had full confidence in his players after Al Hilal sealed their place in the AFC Champions League semi-finals following a 3-0 victory over Al Ain in the second leg of the quarter-final on Monday.

A scoreless draw in the United Arab Emirates last month set up a mouthwatering return fixture at King Fahd International Stadium, and it was Brazilian Carlos Eduardo who proved the hero after his treble secured a third semi-final appearance in four years following a 3-0 aggregate win.

Al Hilal will now face Persepolis of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the semi-finals and, after Monday’s strong showing in Riyadh, will be eyeing a return to the final where they last appeared in 2014.

“I asked the players to play in a calm fashion, as one system and to not be hasty,” said Argentine Diaz.

“I was optimistic about winning despite missing key players; I had confidence in the players and the high spirits of the team.”

After scoring a hat-trick, Eduardo had said his Man-of-the-Match award was “for the whole team” and two players he will be particularly grateful to are midfielders Nicolas Milesi and Salem Al Dawsari.

Uruguayan Milesi’s pinpoint inswinging free-kick allowed his fellow South American Eduardo to head home on 42 minutes, before he again picked out the Brazilian three minutes later for a stunning second.

“We managed to impose ourselves on the match and were in full control,” reflected Milesi.

“We did what was necessary by scoring three goals and we could have scored more.”

With 2016 runners-up Al Ain desperately chasing the tie after the restart, Eduardo added his third on 74 minutes when he ran on to an Al Dawsary through-ball.

“Whatever we say, we won’t be able to do justice to the fans,” said the 26-year-old Saudi Arabian international, who has been with Al Hilal since joining their youth ranks as a teenager.

“Thanks to all those who supported and encouraged us.”

Goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf, who kept two shutouts in the group stage, did not concede over the two legs as the Riyadh side maintained their unbeaten run on the continent.

Although Al Hilal were deserved winners, Al Mayouf was on hand when needed to keep Al Ain at bay in a performance that further outlined the Saudi club as strong tournament contenders.

“We got an important and deserved victory over a difficult opponent and we now hope the positive results keep coming,” said the custodian.

Photos: Lagardère Sports

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