Al Hilal reach Champions League knockouts

Four-time winners confirm their place in Champions League last 16

AFP November 29, 2023


Salem Al Dawsari missed two penalties but scored with a lob from distance as Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal sealed a spot in the Asian Champions League knockout stages on Tuesday.

The winger, who was last month named the continent's best men's player, spurned a spot-kick in either half in the Group D tie against Navbahor in Uzbekistan.

But after substitute Malcolm struck the game's opening goal, Al Dawsari atoned with some distinction for the four-time champions late on in a 2-0 win.

Malcolm's effort, a rebound from Al Dawsari's second saved penalty on 68 minutes, was the Brazilian's first touch of the match. The goal was also his first in the competition since a summer move from Zenit Saint Petersburg.

With four minutes remaining, Al Dawsari made the result safe when he beat goalkeeper Utkir Yusupov from around 35 yards. Navbahor's Ibrokhim Yuldoshev was sent off late on for a second bookable offence.

The victory was enough to take Hilal, Champions League runners-up last season, through to the last 16 as group winners with one game to spare.

In Group A, UAE's Al Ain suffered their first defeat of this continental campaign when they lost 3-1 at home to Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan. The result mattered little to the 2003 champions, though, since Al Ain had already secured their place in the last 16.

In the group's other fixture, Saudi side Al Fayha got only a second win of this campaign with a 3-1 home victory against Turkmenistan's Ahal. Pakhtakor are second going into the final matchday.

Only the group winners are guaranteed to advance to the last 16, with the six best runners-up joining them.

In the East Asian side of the draw, Japan's Kawasaki Frontale made it five wins from five Group I matches to ease into the knockout stage, defeating Malaysia's Johor 5-0 at home.

South Korean side Ulsan stay second following a 3-1 victory against BG Pathum United in Thailand. Both BG Pathum United and Johor will exit the competition at the group stage.

In Group G, Chinese Super League club Shandong Taishan went top by dispatching already eliminated Kaya FC of the Philippines 6-1 in Jinan, while Yokohama F Marinos suffered a potentially damaging 2-1 loss against South Korea's Incheon United.

Incheon and Yokohama each have nine points, with the Korean club second given their superior head-to-head record.

The group stage, which this year returned to a home-and-away format for the first time since early 2020, will conclude in mid-December.

The knockout rounds start in February and the final takes place across two legs in May.


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