Perspolis 0 - Al Hilal 1 (Video)
Moroccan striker Youssef El Arabi fired home a second-half winner as Al Hilal leapfrogged Piroozi to the top of Group D with a 1-0 away win over the Iranian side on Tuesday.
Playing in front of a crowd of over 73,000 at the Azadi Stadium, Piroozi began the match with a two-point advantage over the Saudi club but they struggled to find their rhythm and fell behind in the 59th minute when an unmarked El Arabi capped off a fine counter-attack by slotting the ball past goalkeeper Asmir Avdukic.
Piroozi were unable to muster a response and could have lost by an even bigger margin if not for some poor finishing by the Al Hilal forwards.
Despite the win, Al Hilal coach Ivan Hasek was clearly unhappy about his team’s profligacy in front of goal.
“What we didn’t do in the game was that we could have scored more goals, but we didn’t,” said the Czech. “Nothing is finished now because Piroozi still have the chance to lead the group again so we have to wait for the final matchday and see what happens at the end.”
The result put Al Hilal within a point of their fifth consecutive appearance in the AFC Champions League knockout stage. A draw or a loss for Al Gharafa in their match against Al Shabab Al Arabi later on Tuesday would have secured the Riyadh club’s passage into the round of 16.
Piroozi could have taken the lead after two minutes when Mohammad Nori crashed his header against the crossbar from close range following a corner from the right.
It proved to be a false dawn for the home side who failed to fashion any similar opportunities in the game. Indeed it was the visitors who showed greater endeavour and they could have gone in front in the eighth minute when Ahmed Al Fraidi fired wide.
Just before half-time, Al Fraidi shot narrowly wide after a scramble in the Piroozi box and Abdullah Al Dosari launched a long-range attempt that was on target but well covered by Avdukic.
El Arabi was a constant menace in attack for Al Hilal and he may have been unfortunate not to have been awarded a penalty early in the second half when his shot from just inside the box clearly struck the arm of a defender.
The Moroccan headed just over the crossbar in the 57th minute but his effort was finally rewarded two minutes later when Al Hilal struck on the counter-attack.
With the Piroozi defence struggling to get back to their positions, Al Fraidi played the ball through to El Arabi who was completely unattended on the left of the Piroozi box and had time to pick his spot before coolly firing the ball past Avdukic.
El Arabi should have netted his second in the 70th minute when he rounded Avdukic but saw his effort stopped by defender Shic Rezaei Khonakdar. Al Fraidi then had a chance shortly afterwards when he skipped past the challenge of Khonakdar but took too long on the ball as he attempted to round Avdukic which allowed the Piroozi goalkeeper to gather the ball.
Piroozi’s best chance of an equaliser came with 12 minutes left when Hamid Ali Ashghari shot just wide.
Indeed it was the visitors who finished the stronger and El Arabi nearly netted a second with six minutes left when his shot from just outside the box was brilliantly turned aside by Avdukic.
Piroozi coach Mustafa Denizli refused to blame his players for the poor display and was more disappointed at seeing his side’s hopes of finishing first in the group take a major knock.
“There are the same guys who got good results in our previous games,” said the Turk. “Today we weren’t lucky, but taking current circumstances into consideration, we most probably won’t be playing our round of 16 match at home, which is not good.”
|AL HILAL (KSA)||5||2||3||0||8||6||2||9|
|PIROOZI ATHLETIC (IRN)||5||2||2||1||11||4||7||8|
|AL GHARAFA (QAT)||5||1||3||1||6||8||-2||6|
|AL SHABAB AL ARABI (UAE)||5||0||2||3||4||11||-7||2|