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Group A: Istiklol leave it late to seal dramatic AFC Champions League victory against Shabab Al Ahli

Riyadh: Alisher Dzhalilov's stoppage time strike helped FC Istiklol beat Shabab Al Ahli Dubai 1-0 in Group A of the 2021 AFC Champions League on Tuesday.

The win took Tajikistan's Istiklol to 10 points and top of the group, same with Al Hilal SFC but with a better head-to-head record against the Saudi Arabia side.

Defeat means Shabab Al Ahli are eliminated with top spot in the group to be decided on Friday with Istiklol playing AGMK while Shabab Al Ahli face Al Hilal.

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Shabab Al Ahli, who needed all three points to stay in contention to win the group, kicked off the match brightly at the King Fahd International Stadium with Harib Abdalla firing a warning shot in the third minute.

Istiklol, meanwhile, were comfortable being in their own half and kept to the defensive gameplan that saw them stun Al Hilal 4-1 on Matchday Five.

Mahdi Ali’s Shabab Al Ahli had the lion’s share of possession but none of their runs and crosses into the final third troubled Istiklol goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov, who was ably supported by his defenders.

Istiklol, however, showed how dangerous they could be on the counter attack and had Shabab Al Ahli backpedalling in the 42nd minute when a string of passes between Manuchekhr Dzhalilov and Alisher Dhzalilov saw them come within sight of the goalmouth but Manuchekhr just failed to connect to his skipper’s cross.

Little changed in the second half as Shabab Al Ahli kept pressing for the opening goal, coming close in the 60th minute when Ahmed Alhashmi rose highest to head Abdalla’s curling corner but failed to get his header on target.

Shabab Al Ahli’s Jaloliddin Masharipov was a constant threat to Istiklol’s backline, but none of his teammates could do justice to his crosses into the box, but the UAE club did have a glimpse on goal when Majed Hassan let loose a cracking strike from outside the box to force a diving save from ‘keeper Yatimov in the 75th minute.

Istiklol had their chances to break the deadlock, earning a free-kick after Mohammed Marzooq took down Rustam Soirov outside the box, but Manuchekhr fired his strike right into the arms of Shabab Al Ahli custodian Majed Naser.

There was, however, drama right at the end as Alisher scored in the sixth minute of added time into an empty goalmouth after finding Shabab Al Ahli ‘keeper Naser out of position as the debutants kept their dream of advancing to the Round of 16 alive.

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