Sharayea: A brace by teenager Mustafa Al Bassas helped Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia trounce Iranian champions Sepahan 4-1 at the King Abdulaziz Sport City on Wednesday to seal their place in the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League for a second year in a row.
In a physical and sometimes tempestuous encounter between two teams who were meeting for the sixth time in just over a year, Al Bassas took advantage of a defensive mix-up to put the 2012 runners-up ahead just before half-time.
He added a second early in the second half and Bruno Cesar converted from the spot in the 67th minute before Radomir Dalovic pulled a goal back for the Iranian side. The visitors tried to stage a late rally but Bader Al Khames broke clear in stoppage time to seal Al Ahli’s fourth consecutive win in Group C.
With a maximum 12 points, Al Ahli are three points clear of second-placed Al Gharafa and nine ahead of third-placed Sepahan, who stand on the brink of elimination at the group stage after conceding four goals to the Saudi side for the third consecutive game.
Al Ahli beat the Iranian club 4-1 in Jeddah in the second leg of the quarter-finals last October and 4-2 in Isfahan last week but there was little indication of a similar scoreline in a poor first half that saw few real chances but plenty of bruising tackles.
Amad Al Hosni should have put the home side ahead when he was sent clear in the 35th minute but he put his shot wide of the far post with only goalkeeper Shahab Gordan to beat.
But the deadlock would be broken after a dreadful mix-up between Gordan and defender Ehsan Hajisafi. Bruno Cesar’s attempted through ball appeared to have been easily covered by the pair but Gordan smacked his clearing kick straight at the defender and the ball ricocheted back towards the Sepahan goal.
It hit the upright but Al Bassas was on hand to easily tap the ball into the back of the net.
Al Bassas would profit from more defensive misfortune for his second goal five minutes into the second half. Mansour Al Harbi lofted a ball to the left flank where Hasan Jafari slipped as he tried to challenge Al Bassas, who was able to run unchallenged towards the edge of the Sepahan box where he fired a low shot that went between the legs of Milan Susak and rolled past Gordan at his near post.
Al Ahli goalkeeper Abdullah Al Maiouf made a superb reflex save to keep out Dalovic’s bullet header before the hosts were awarded a penalty in the 67th minute after Mohsen Irannejad upended Taisir Al Jassim in the box.
Bruno Cesar’s spot kick was straight down the middle and while it hit Gordan’s legs, he could not keep it out.
Sepahan finally got on the scoreboard with nine minutes left when Dalovic headed in Ervin Bulku’s free-kick.
But in stoppage time, Aqeel Al Shabi split the Sepahan defence with a through ball to Al Khame who rounded Gordan before tapping home to complete the rout.