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Sunday April 21, 2024

Late own goal takes Al-Ittihad into all-Saudi ACL quarters clash

First legs of the quarter-finals will be played from March 4 to 6, with the return fixtures held from March 11 to 13.

By REUTERS
February 24, 2024
Football player Toma Tabatadze can be seen in this image. — AFP/File
Football player Toma Tabatadze can be seen in this image. — AFP/File

JEDDAH: Toma Tabatadze’s late own goal spared Karim Benzema’s blushes as the defender gifted Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad a 2-1 win over Navbahor of Uzbekistan on Thursday to set up an Asian Champions League quarter-final meeting with compatriots Al-Hilal.

The French striker headed Jamshid Iskanderov’s free kick into his own net in the 25th minute to give the visitors the lead in Jeddah, with the teams going into the tie level after a scoreless draw in the first leg last week.

But Benzema made partial amends in first half injury time, rising highest to meet Ahmed Al Ghamdi’s corner to head the ball into Abderrazaq Hamedallah’s path and the Moroccan swept his first-time strike beyond Utkir Yusupov to equalise.

The game was headed for extra-time when Tabatadze sliced his attempt to clear Saleh Al-Amri’s 87th minute corner, the ball looping wickedly over Yusupov’s head to put Al-Ittihad through.

The win means Al-Ittihad will be one of three Saudi Pro League clubs in the competition’s last eight with Al-Hilal also progressing following a 3-1 win in Riyadh over Sepahan on Thursday that gave Jorge Jesus’ side a 6-2 aggregate victory.

Farshad Ahmadzadeh had put the Iranians in front on the night when he bundled the ball over the line in the 54th minute, but Sepahan’s momentum was stalled when Siavash Yazdani was sent off in the 71st minute for a late challenge on Malcom.

Salem Al Dawsari turned inside the Sepahan penalty area to strike five minutes later to restore Al-Hilal’s two-goal cushion overall and Ruben Neves confirmed his side’s progress with a thunderous strike from distance with eight minutes left. Aleksandar Mitrovic added Al-Hilal’s third from close range seven minutes into injury time. Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal will now meet next month in a western quarter-final line-up dominated by the big-spending clubs from Saudi Arabia.

The pair are joined by Al-Nassr in the last eight, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s side due to take on Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates in the next round after their win over fellow Saudi Pro League club Al-Fayha on Wednesday.

South Korean champions Ulsan Hyundai will take on compatriots Jeonbuk Motors in the eastern half of the draw while Yokohama F Marinos from Japan will play Chinese Super League side Shandong Taishan.

The first legs of the quarter-finals will be played from March 4 to 6, with the return fixtures held from March 11 to 13.