Iraq’s Al Shorta recorded their first-ever AFC Champions League win, defeating Al Ahli Saudi FC 2-1 in Matchday Four of the 2020 AFC Champions League Group A yesterday.
Al Ahli had already qualified to the Round of 16 going into Matchday Four, but needed a point to secure the top spot in the group, while for Al Shorta, beating Al Ahli would mean they would need just one point against Esteghlal in Matchday Five to progress.
After a lively start from both side, it was Al Shorta who struck first as centre-back Saad Natiq escaped his marker and met Ali Fayez’s out-swinging cross from the corner with a powerful header that left goalkeeper Mohamed al-Owais helpless in the 14th minute.
The Iraqi side continued to dominate and with 10 minutes to go until the break, former Al Ahli player Saad Abdulamir delivered a cross from the right that was not properly delivered by the Al Ahli defence, falling to Mohamed Qasim who controlled and curled it towards the top corner, drawing a fingertip save from al-Owais to keep the score at 1-0 by halftime.
Coach Vladan Milojevic’s words at the break seemed to have worked magic as Al Ahli came racing out of the blocks after the restart.
The Saudis had their first big chance seven minutes into the second half as Marko Marin found Haitham Asiri inside the box and the youngster evaded his marker and fired a left-footed effort that was saved by goalkeeper Ahmed Basil. Marin controlled the rebound and bent it goalward, but Basil comfortably caught the ball.
Al Shorta’s defences finally yielded to Al Ahli’s sustained pressure as Mohamed al-Majhad collected Marin’s sublime pass on the left flank, cut inside, making his way past two Al Shorta defenders before drilling one into the bottom right corner of Basil’s goal to bring the scores level in the 56th minute.
Coach Abdulghani Shahd’s men regrouped and within eight minutes they had restored their lead.
Kudhur Ali advanced down the right wing and sent a low cross for Mazin Fayyadh who kept his composure to beat al-Owais at his near post and make it 2-1 before the midway point of the second half.
Al Shorta controlled the rest of the proceedings and Abdulamir nearly got one against his former club, but the skipper watched his thunderous effort from 30 yards out punched away by al-Owais five minutes from time as the Iraqis secured their 2-1 win at the final whistle.
The result means Al Shorta move ahead of Esteghlal and into second place with four points. A draw against the Iran side on Sunday will be enough for Shahd’s men to secure passage to the knockout stages for the first time in their history.
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