Doha (AFP) – Marcus Berg scored from the penalty spot twice as UAE’s Al Ain sent last year’s runners-up Al Hilal crashing out of the Asian Champions League on Monday.
The 2-1 defeat saw Al Hilal fail to add to their two points after five matches in Group D, as the Saudi giants exited in the group phase of the tournament for the first time since 2006.
It was Al Hilal who drew first blood, however, when Mohamed al-Burayk’s cracking free-kick from 25 yards in the seventh minute beat Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Eissa all ends up.
But the hosts regrouped in style and earned a penalty after Al Hilal defender Mohamed Jahfali recklessly tackled Omar Abdulrahman.
Although Abdulrahman failed to convert from the spot, with goalkeeper Ali al-Habsi making a fine save, the UAE star won a second penalty five minutes before the break when he was brought down by Ali al-Bulayhi.
This time it was Swede Berg who stepped up to take the shot, and he made no mistake to level the scores.
Al Ain maintained the pressure on their opponents and were awarded their third penalty of the game when Rayan Haslam was fouled by Fahad al-Rashidi in first-half added time. Berg again converted to put his side ahead.
Earlier on Monday, Iran’s Esteghlal became the first team to qualify from Group D when they beat Qatar’s Al Rayyan 2-0 in Tehran.
Esteghlal scored in the fourth minute through Server Djeparov after an assist from Farshid Esmaeili and doubled their lead in the second half with Vouria Ghafouri scoring from the penalty spot.
Al Rayyan will clash with Al Ain in two weeks’ time to decide the second team to qualify from the group.
– Al Sadd, Persepolis through –
Meanwhile, Baghdad Bounedjah scored a brace as Al Sadd became the second team from Qatar to qualify for the last 16 after a 2-1 win over the UAE’s Al Wasl in Group C.
Qatar league champions Al Duhail had already qualified for the knockout rounds with two matches to spare, and the runners-up too secured their spot in style, earning four wins from five matches to lead the standings in Group C with 12 points.
Al Wasl, who were already eliminated, suffered an early setback when Algerian Bounedjah pounced on Abdulrahman Ali’s back-pass and slotted past Yousif Abdulla to give Al Sadd a ninth-minute lead.
The hosts thoroughly dominated after that although they had to wait until the second half to consolidate.
Al Sadd goalkeeper Saad al-Dosari had produced a fine save to thwart a curling Ronaldo Mendes free-kick a few minutes after the restart, but it was Al Sadd who struck again, Bounedjah scoring with a backheel from close off an Akram Afif pass in the 59th minute for his seventh goal of the tournament.
Bounedjah appeared set for a hat-trick in the last minute after being freed by Afif but the striker mistimed his shot with the goalkeeper at his mercy.
Iran’s Persepolis also qualified from Group C on a better head-to-head record after a goalless draw with Uzbekistan’s Nasaf. Al Sadd and Persepolis will face off in a fortnight to decide the group winners.