Al Shabab, Al Alhi advance in Asian Champions League

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Sebastian Tagliabue scored a late goal on the break as Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab became the first team to book its place in the Asian Champions League knockout stage with a 1-0 win over Tractorsazi Tabriz of Iran on Wednesday.

Last year’s runner-up Al Alhi, also of Saudi Arabia, advanced with a 4-1 thrashing of Iran’s Sepahan.

After enduring intense pressure from Tractorsazi for much of the second half, Argentinian striker Tagliabue streaked clear of the Tractorsazi defense five minutes from time and coolly slid the ball past goalkeeper Mehdi Sabeti to secure victory. The win saw unbeaten Al Shabab move up to 10 points, five clear of second-placed El Jaish of Qatar, which was held to a 1-1 draw by Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates.

“It was a very tough game for both teams,” Al Shabab coach Michel Preud’homme said. “In the second half, we reduced their pressure and were more looking for a single point. But every ball we grabbed turned into a chance for us in the second period.”

In Jeddah, Mustafa al-Bassas broke the deadlock in the second half with two goals in five minutes. Bruno Cesar added a penalty to make it 3-0 before Radomir Dalovic pulled one back for Sephan in the 81st. Bader al-Khames completed the rout with a goal in added time.

In Group C, Al Gharafa of Qatar bolstered its chances of advancing with a 3-1 win over Al Nasr which ends the campaign for the United Arab Emirates side.

Al Gharafa’s Lawrence Quaye opened the scoring in the eighth minute when he fired a long range drive beyond keeper Ahmad Shambih that appeared to take a deflection off the shoulder of Giuseppe Mascara.

Al Nasr drew level eight minutes later when Japanese international Takayuki Morimoto took a pass from Bruno Cesar and slotted the ball to Qasem Burhan’s left.

But Al Gharafa took control after that. Former Paris Saint-Germain winger Nene pounced on a rebound off a shot from former Marseille striker Djibril Cisse in the 55th to make 2-1. Then, with 10 minutes left, Fahd al-Shammari put the match out of reach with a header following a corner taken by Alex.

“The win will give us a big push in order to compete for one of the two tickets for the knockout stage,” Al Gharafa coach Habib Tounsi said. “The match was hard and I was a little bit worried when we took the lead as I thought that the players will sit back and defend, which happened for a short time. However, we got back into the game and scored more goals which gave us an important win.”

In Group E, Atsushi Yanagisawa scored in the first half as Vegalta Sendai beat FC Seoul 1-0 for its first win in the competition.

Yanagisawa’s header in the 17th minute allowed Sendai to improve to five points from four matches in Group E. FC Seoul remains on seven points.

FC Seoul came close to equalizing in the 59th minute when Dejan Damjanovic’s shot from outside the penalty area hit the crossbar.

Also in Group E, Suchao Nutnum scored in the first half and Charyl Chappius doubled the lead after the break as Thai club Buriram FC beat Chinese team Jiangsu Sainty 2-0. Buriram improved to five points while Jiangsu has four.

Fozil Musaev’s close-range strike secured Bunyodkor a 1-0 win over Beijing Guoan which allowed the Uzbek side moved clear at the top of Group G. J-League champion Sanfrecce Hiroshima and South Korean club Pohang Steelers finished 1-1 in other Group G encounter.

Mirdjalal Kasimov’s side leads the group by two points from Pohang Steelers while Beijing are in third place a point further adrift.