Play-off: Al Ahli Saudi FC (KSA) 1-0 FC Istiklol (TJK)
Jeddah: A penalty from Youcef Belaïli at the death helped Al Ahli Saudi FC overcome FC Istiklol of Tajikistan to reach the 2020 AFC Champions League Group Stage with a 1-0 win at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium on Tuesday.
Istiklol had qualified to the play-off stage after stunning PFC Lokomotiv 1-0 in Tashkent in the Preliminary Round 2, while Al Ahli qualified as fourth placed in the 2018-19 Saudi Pro League.
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The hosts looked to take an early lead as new signing Marko Marin tried his luck from distance inside the first minute, but his effort was slightly high.
In turn, Istiklol took their time, slowly growing into the match. It was only seven minutes before the break that the Tajiks got their first chance from a set-piece, where Oleksiy Larin headed Alisher Dzhalilov’s corner agonisingly close.
The visitors looked to gain confidence in the second half and were within inches of getting an opener again in the 68th minute when Sheriddin Boboev embarked on a 30-yard mazy run before curling from just outside the area, but his effort narrowly missed the target.
At the other end, Souza had a golden chance to win it for Al Ahli with six minutes left on the clock. The Brazilian was unmarked as he headed Hussein Abdulghani’s cross from the left, but he could not keep it low and the ball landed on top of Rustam Yatimov’s goal.
As the game looked headed towards extra time, drama ensued as Victor Svezhov was sent-off and Al Ahli were awarded a penalty in the last minute after the Russian was deemed to have elbowed Hussain Al Moqahwi inside the box.
Algerian international Youcef Belaïli stepped up and calmly placed his shot from the spot into the back of the net to send the Saudis into the group stage.
Al Ahli join UAE’s Al Wahda FSCC, Iraq’s Al Shorta and Esteghlal FC from the Islamic Republic of Iran in Group A.
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