Sepahan 2 - 1 Al Ahli
Defender Mohsen Bengar headed in the winner four minutes from time as Sepahan of Iran leapfrogged Al Ahli to the top of Group C with a 2-1 win over the Saudi club on Wednesday.
Needing a victory to secure top spot in the group, the recently-crowned three-time Iranian league champions dominated the match at Foolad Shahr Stadium and took a deserved the lead through Xhevahir Sukaj in the 19th minute.
But Amad Al Hosni levelled the score for Al Ahli in the 62nd minute and the Jeddah club appeared to have done enough to win the match until Bengar, who had been pushed forward into attack in the closing minutes, rose above the Al Ahli defence to head in the decisive goal in the 86th minute.
Sepahan coach Zlatko Kranjcar felt that his side deserved the win.
"We should have had a good lead at half-time. We didn't take advantage of several of our good chances in the first half but we finally we overcame Al Ahli and qualified as the winners of the group," said the Croatian.
"Unfortunately our strikers have not performed well lately. The overall effort of the team has been good but we need to work on our finishing.
"Our forwards did not do well in attack so we added Mohsen Bengar to our attack which was a successful change of plan."
With the win, Sepahan sealed first place in their group and a home match in the Round of 16 against either Iranian league rivals Esteghlal or Qatar's Al Rayyan next Tuesday.
Al Ahli will travel to Abu Dhabi to meet Group A winners Al Jazira in another last 16 tie.
The hosts had the better of the opening exchanges and they nearly took the lead in the 18th minute when a close range attempt by Sukaj was stopped by the legs of goalkeeper Yaser Al Mosailem.
But the Albanian striker would put his side ahead just a minute later. He beat the offside trap to reach a long pass by skipper Moharram Navidkia and brought the ball down before firing in a low shot from the edge of the box. Al Mosailem got a hand to the ball but could not keep it out of his own net.
The hosts could have extended their advantage before half-time as Sukaj had his 28th minute effort ruled out for offside before Bruno Cesar Correa fired straight at Al Mosailem in stoppage time following a defensive lapse by the visitors.
Sepahan goalkeeper Rahman Ahmadi kept out Al Hosni's header in the 57thminute but he could do little to stop the Omani forward five minutes later when he raced on to a long pass by Motaz Al Musa and fired a powerful shot into the top right corner of the net.
Substitute Mehdi Seyed Salehi had two chances to restore Sepahan's lead as he headed wide and then failed to make the most of a close-range opportunity after a neat pass by Mehdi Karimian.
However, the winner would arrive four minutes from time as Mahdi Jafarpour sent in a cross from the right which was headed by Mohsen Bengar past the helpless Al Mosailem
Al Ahli coach Karel Jarolim paid tribute to the winning side but was critical of his own side's performance.
"Congratulations to Sepahan for their victory and qualification as winners of the group," said the Czech. "They played good football in front of their fans and they deserved to win the match. They are a good team and they have a bright future.
"Of course we didn't come here with our complete squad because we have an important King's Cup match coming up but the players we had for this games didn't play well and our team lacked harmony."
|FOOLAD SEPAHAN (IRN)||6||4||1||1||9||4||5||13|
|AL AHLI (KSA)||6||3||1||2||10||6||4||10|
|AL NASR (UAE) *||6||2||0||4||6||11||-5||6|
|LEKHWIYA (QAT) *||6||2||0||4||5||9||-4||6|