Al Ahli kept their hopes of a place in the knockout phase of the AFC Champions League alive with an emphatic 4-1 win that brought El Jaish’s impressive start to the 2016 campaign to a shuddering halt.
Eslam Sarraj and Muhannad Asiri gave Christian Gross’ side a two-goal lead at half time before Abderrazzaq Hamedallah halved the deficit six minutes into the second half, only for further goals from Motaz Hawsawi and Sarraj to ensure Al Ahli claimed all three points.
Despite the defeat, Sabri Lamouchi’s side were guaranteed top spot earlier in the day when Al Ain failed to defeat Nasaf, with the 1-1 draw ensuring El Jaish could not be knocked off the summit while also allowing Al Ahli to close the gap between themselves and the club from the United Arab Emirates to just one point.
Al Ahli took the lead in the 22nd minute when Giannis Fetfatzidis’ corner from the right was glanced towards the six-yard box by Mohammed al-Fatil and Sarraj netted with a right-foot shot.
Another corner from Greek international Fetfatzidis delivered the second goal two minutes before the break when the 25-year-old’s centre was met by Asiri and his header gave El Jaish goalkeeper Khalifa Ababacar no chance.
El Jaish had carried a threat of their own throughout the opening 45 minutes, with Romarinho and Hamedallah both causing problems for the Al Ahli defence, but neither was able to make an impact on the scoreboard until six minutes after the restart.
That was when Hamedallah halved the deficit when he rolled the ball into an empty net after Mohamed Methnani’s earlier effort had come back off the post to leave the Moroccan with the simplest of finishes.
Hawsawi, however, put Al Ahli two goals clear again just one minute later when he directed Marquinho’s corner home and, in the 59th minute, Sarraj claimed his second of the game with a close-range finish after being put through on goal by Mansour al-Harbi.
Jaish defender Yasir Isa was sent off in the dying minutes when he hauled down Sarraj in the penalty area, but Asiri’s weak penalty was saved by Ababacar and Sarraj could not convert the rebound.
El Jaish (Qat) 1 – 4 Al Ahli SC (Sau)
G-Osaka (Jpn) 1 – 2 Suwon (Kor)
Pohang (Kor) 0 – 2 Guangzhou Evergrande (Chn)
Shanghai SIPG (Chn) 3 – 1 Melbourne Victory (Aus)
Nasaf Qarshi (Uzb) 1 - 1 Al Ain (UAE)
Al-Hilal (Sau) 0 - 2 Tractor (Irn)
Al Jazira (Uae) 1 – 3 Pakhtakor (Uzb)
Al Ahli players celebrate after scoring against El Jaish yesterday. The Saudi side defeated the Qatari team 4-1. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil