05.08.2019 22:14 h

Al-Sahafi gives Saudi's Al Ittihad crucial win over Zobahan

Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad have one foot in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League after Ziyad al-Sahafi's 72nd-minute goal handed Iran's Zobahan their first defeat in Asia's premier tournament this year on Monday.

Al Ittihad, who won back-to-back Asian titles in 2004 and 2005, beat Zobahan 2-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie at the neutral venue of Al Zabeel Stadium in Dubai, designated as the Saudi club's home ground due to political tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Al Ittihad have had a poor run in the Saudi league, finishing 10th, but that hasn't stopped them from excelling at continental level, with Monday's result keeping them on course for a possible third title.

They are one of four Saudi teams in the last 16, with two each from Qatar and the UAE making up the eight from west Asia who have qualified for the knockout phase of the tournament.

There was precious little to choose between the two teams with the initial minutes producing frantic action as they tried to establish control over the match.

An early goal looked imminent and sure enough it materialised in the seventh minute after Al Ittihad's Luis Jimenez brought down Mohamed Niknafs as the Iranians mounted pressure on the rival goal.

The resultant free-kick saw Ghasem Hadadifar curl the ball over the Al Ittihad wall, beating goalkeeper Fawaz al-Qarni all ends up.

But barely had Zobahan's celebrations died down when Al Ittihad found the equaliser, with Jimenez making amends for his earlier blunder.

Zobahan's Masoud Ebrahimzadeh's attempted clearance saw the ball hit the crossbar and fall into Jimenez's path, and the Chilean made no mistake from close for the equaliser in the ninth minute.

Brazilian Romarinho was a constant danger for Zobahan, but saw a couple of chances wasted before the half-hour mark, once hitting the side-netting and later firing straight at the goalkeeper.

After Romarinho had missed another chance, shooting wide when he had only goalkeeper Mohamed Sadeghi to beat in the 60th minute, the Saudi side finally claimed the winner 12 minutes later.

Chilean Carlos Villanueva produced an outstanding cross and Al-Sahafi was in good position to head the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

Both teams will clash in the second leg in Doha next week.

Meanwhile, in the second match of the day, the UAE's Al Wahda and Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr featured in a 1-1 draw at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh.

Moroccan Abderrazak Hamdallah gave Al Nassr the lead in the 17th minute following an assist from Sultan al-Ghanam, but Leonardo Souza equalised in the 53rd to set up a potentially thrilling second leg on August 12.