Jeddah, February 22 (QNA) – Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia defeated Uzbekistan’s Navbahor 2-1 at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium on Thursday to qualify for the AFC Champions League 2023/24 quarter-finals.

The two teams had played out a goalless draw in Namangan a week ago, and it was an unlikely combination of two own goals from strikers Karim Benzema and Toma Tabatadze separated by an Abderrazak Hamdallah strike which decided the return leg, the AFC website reported.

The hosts came close to opening their account on the night after 13 minutes when Fabinho exchanged passes with N’Golo Kante before curling an effort from just outside the penalty area that fizzed just wide of the upright.

Instead, the first goal of the game came at the other end when Jamshid Iskanderov curled a free-kick from the right flank into the Al Ittihad penalty area and Benzema attempted to head it clear, but ended up sending it into the back of his own net to give Navbahor the lead in the 25th minute.

Al Ittihad ramped up the pressure in the final minutes of the first half and Hamdallah nearly brought them level when he curled a low shot from the edge of the box towards the bottom corner, but was denied by a diving save from goalkeeper Utkir Yusupov.

The Moroccan striker got his goal deep into added time. An Ahmed Al Ghamdi delivery from the corner was nodded on by Benzema for Hamdallah who was well-positioned at the far post and needed just one touch to send it into the back of the net, restoring parity going into the break.

Everyone at King Abdullah Sports City thought Navbahor got another goal when defender Filip Ivanovic advanced into the Ittihad box and capitalised on Fabinho’s inability to clear the ball, launching a half-volleyed strike from a narrow angle, but the Serbian’s shot passed just wide.

Benzema had the ball in the back of the Navbahor net with 15 minutes left on the clock, finishing with aplomb following a squared pass from Ahmed Hegazi, but the flag had gone up and subsequent VAR review confirmed the Egyptian centre-back was indeed in an offside position.

With the clock ticking and both sides looking destined to contest 30 minutes of extra time, a Saleh Al Amri cross for Al Ittihad seemed headed behind, but an awkward touch from Navbahor’s Georgian striker Toma Tabatadze saw the ball change its trajectory and end up in the back of the net to gift Al Ittihad a late winner.

Navbahor’s woes were compounded when they were reduced to 10 men in added time, with Jovan Dokic receiving a straight red card after his high leg hit Al Amri’s head.

Al Ittihad return to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2019, and are set to face either arch-rivals Al Hilal or Sepahan FC of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the next round. (QNA)


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