Tehran: Imad Khalili scored the only goal just before the hour mark as Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab stunned Iran champions Esteghlal by claiming a 1-0 win in Tuesday’s AFC Champions League Group A opener at Azadi Stadium.
Despite 2013 AFC Champions League quarter-finalists Al Shabab struggling domestically and Esteghlal firmly in the hunt to defend their domestic crown, Palestinian striker Khalili (pictured) struck two minutes before the hour mark to claim all three points for the visitors.
And with Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates beating Qatar’s Al Rayyan 3-2 in Abu Dhabi, Al Shabab join the Arabian Gulf League at the top of Group A ahead of the Matchday two meeting between the pair at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh in two weeks.
Two-time Asian champions Esteghlal, meanwhile, will look to bounce back against Al Rayyan in Doha as Amir Ghalenoei’s side look to build on last year’s semi-final appearance.
Despite suffering a 4-1 defeat by basement side Al Nandha in the Saudi Pro League on Friday which saw Al Shabab slip to a distant fourth, the visitors enjoyed the better of the early exchanges as Esteghlal goalkeeper Mahdi Rahmati had to be on his toes to save from Khalil after just nine minutes.
The home side, though, thought they had broken the deadlock eight minutes before half-time but Hanif Omranzadeh had strayed narrowly offside before the defender guided a flicked header from Iman Mobali’s free-kick past Al Shabab goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah.
And Al Shabab took full advantage two minutes before the hour mark as Fernando Menegazzo was allowed to skip past two Esteghlal defenders on the edge of the penalty area before chipping a pass across the face of goal for Khalili to turn into the unguarded net from close range with goalkeeper Rahmati out of position at his front post.
Esteghlal pushed forward in the closing stages in search of way back into contest, but the home side lacked quality in the final third with the best chance coming with five minutes remaining as substitute Mahdi Nazari flashed an effort narrowly wide of the upright.
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