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Group A: Al Hilal through to AFC Champions League last 16 stage despite shock loss to Shabab Al Ahli


Riyadh: Al Hilal SFC advanced to the AFC Champions League knockout stage as one of the best three group runners-up despite suffering a 2-0 defeat against already eliminated Shabab Al Ahli Dubai in their final Group A match on Friday.

Needing to better the result of group leaders FC Istiklol – who lost 2-1 to AGMK FC in their match – the 2019 champions fell victim to a pair of Igor Jesus goals to find themselves second in the group and on the brink of elimination.

But they ultimately survived by virtue of the 1-1 Group C draw between Al Ahli and Al Duhail, a result which ensured Al Hilal would advance to the Round of 16 more than an hour after they completed their match.

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The precariousness of the qualification race was clear from the very beginning for Al Hilal, who avoided early catastrophe when Muhammad Juma intercepted a scuffed clearance from Ali Hilal goalkeeper Abdullah Al Muaiouf, only to blast his shot wide.

Little by little Rogerio Micale’s side seized the ascendancy, but misses from Bafetimbi Gomis, Luciano Vietto and Yasir Al-Shahrani meant Shabab Al Ahli’s Hassan Hamza didn’t have a single save to make in a lacklustre first half.

Shabab Al Ahli had come into the final Matchday with their fate already sealed but they showed they were no pushovers, and the match swung in their favour in the 54th minute, when Jaloliddin Masharipov – a regular source of danger throughout – was hauled down by Mohammed Kanno, with Igor Jesus squeezing the subsequent spot-kick home to put the Emirati side ahead.

With their future in the competition now very much on the line, Al Hilal’s hopes of a quick reply were undermined by more inaccuracy in front of goal, with Andre Carillo and Ali Hadi Al Bulayhi both missing the target with headed efforts as the search for a shot on target continued.

News filtered through from across town that AGMK were sailing clear of group leaders Istiklol – creating the possibility of a draw being enough to advance – but Shabab Al Ahli remained alert and focused as the minutes began to slip away for the hosts.

Any chance of dramatic a late recovery was emphatically quashed in the last minute of normal time, with Igor Jesus heading home an excellent Abdelaziz Sanqour cross to give Shabab Al Ahli a parting win, and keep Al Hilal on tenterhooks for another hour before they result in Jeddah ultimately fell their way.

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