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Preview - Group A: Top spot at stake as Al Hilal, Istiklol square off in AFC Champions League


Riyadh: Al Hilal SFC or FC Istiklol will both be aiming to walk away with a clear lead at the end of their 2021 AFC Champions League Group A tie on Wednesday. 

Both are on four points after two matches, with Al Hilal ahead with a better goal difference and a win for either will boost their hopes of winning the group and sealing the sole automatic spot to the Round of 16.

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Al Hilal were denied a winning start by AGMK FC with the Uzbek club claiming a 2-2 draw, but the 2019 AFC Champions League winners were back at their best as first half goals by Bafetimbi Gomis and André Carrillo secured them a 2-0 victory over Shabab Al Ahli Dubai on Matchday Two.

A glaring takeaway from Al Hilal's earlier two ties was their inability to close out the matches and head coach Rogerio Micale will urge his men to put away their chances against tournament debutants Istiklol.

2021 AFC Champions League: Shabab Al Ahli Dubai 0-2 Al Hilal SFC

"Our preparations for the match has been concentrated on the recovery of the players, because there is a very short amount of time between the matches," Micale said. "We believe that the team has prepared very well before the tournament, so we're only concentrating on the recovery.

"This match will be between the two teams who are leading the group. We respect Istiklol who are very strong at defence, so we have to remain calm and not rush to score.

"Salem Al Dawsari is recovering from an injury, same goes for Abdullah Al Hamdan, but we hope we can use them in the later stages."

Istiklol, meanwhile, have grown from strength to strength as they followed up their goalless draw with Shabab Al Ahli with a 3-2 win over AGMK to secure their first-ever AFC Champions League group stage win.

Head coach Mubin Ergashev's side are now firmly in contention for top spot in the group and the Tajikistan champions will definitely not be overawed by the prospect of taking on one of the continent's most decorated sides.

2021 AFC Champions League: AGMK FC 2-3 FC Istiklol

"We are halfway into the competition in this group, this is going to be our third match, and we will try to play our best and try to get a good result," said Ergashev.

"We can't specify one strength in Al Hilal, but I can say that they have a team with very well experienced players."

"Before the first match against Shabab Al Ahli, the players were a little nervous because this is the first time we're playing at such a level, and we had no experience in the competition, but now we've adapted in facing the big teams.

"Of course the match will be difficult against Al Hilal, but we are ready."


Al Hilal SFC (KSA) v FC Istiklol (TJK)
Venue: Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh
Kick-off: Wednesday, 22:00 hours (UTC+3)

Poll ends at 23:00 (UTC+8) on April 21.

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