Isfahan, February 15 (QNA) – Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia came from behind to beat 10-man Sepahan FC 3-1 in the first leg of their AFC Champions League 2023/24 Round of 16 meeting on Thursday at the Naghsh-e-Jahan Stadium.

The victory gives four-time Asian champions Al Hilal a healthy advantage to defend in next Thursday’s return leg in Riyadh with the winners to face either Uzbekistan’s Navbahor or Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad in the quarter-finals, the AFC website reported.

The visitors looked to dictate the play from kick-off, with Sepahan happy to sit back and look for an opening on the break. However, the opening 15 minutes saw Al Hilal fail to carve out a single opportunity despite controlling the match.

Ruben Neves and Malcom were the two looking to make something happen for Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, but Sepahan’s defence were able to keep them at bay.

Al Hilal’s first real opportunity came when Saud Abdulhamid crossed a ball in from the right, but Salem Al Dawsari’s header went wide when Aleksandar Mitrovic was waiting to head home in behind.

Neves shortly afterwards played a diagonal ball in behind which found Al Dawsari, who wriggled past two players, only to fire his shot straight at Payam Niazmand.

Yet against the run of play, Sepahan scored first. A long ball over the top found Ramin Rezaeian, whose volley was struck sweetly and Yassine Bounou could do nothing about it as it flew into the far corner. This was the right-back’s fifth goal of the tournament, drawing level with Mitrovic.

Al Hilal drew level 12 minutes into the second half. Mitrovic’s first shot of the game was well saved by Niazmand, but he pushed it into Malcom’s path and the Brazilian was able to squeeze the ball home from close range.

Mohammad Karimi almost restored the lead for the hosts after a beautifully whipped in cross from the goalscorer found the captain six yards out but he couldn’t steer his head on target.

Heading into the final 15 minutes, VAR intervened and the referee brandished Mohammad Ghorbani with a red card for a late tackle which caught Abdullah Al Hamdan high on his shin.

Right at the death, Abdulhamid’s clever cross into the area found Mitrovic, whose towering header in the 94th minute got the better of Niazmand and found the bottom corner to claim the lead.

With Sepahan shell shocked, Al Hilal made it 3-1 when Al Dawsari played Abdullah Al Hamdan through the middle, who poked home to take a two goal advantage into the reverse leg. (QNA)


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