Al Hilal set up Shabab Al Ahli clash despite Al Rayyan loss
Defending champions Al Hilal will take on Shabab Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates in the last 16 of the Asian Champions League when the competition resumes in February despite slipping to a 2-0 loss to Qatar’s Al Rayyan in Riyadh on Wednesday.
The Saudi Arabian side, who won a record fourth title last year, suffered their first loss in this season’s continental championship but still claimed first place in Group A.
They are joined in the next round by Al Rayyan after the Qatari club took one of the three best runners-up spots available in the next phase alongside Shabab Al Ahli and Uzbekistan’s Nasaf Qarshi.
Nasaf confirmed their progress to the knockout rounds for the first time in their history with a 2-2 draw against Jordan’s Al Wehdat, which ensured a second-place finish in Group E and a spot in the next round alongside group winners Al Faisaly.
Al Faisaly lost 1-0 in their final group game against already-eliminated Al Sadd from Qatar, but the outcome did not stop the Saudi club from finishing first in the group and setting up a last 16 clash with Group C winners Foolad of Iran.
Nasaf will take on Al Shabab following the Saudi side’s topping of Group B, with Al Rayyan advancing to an all-Qatari showdown with Group D winners Al Duhail.
The matches in the knockout rounds in west Asia will be held in February next year due to the impact on the schedule in the region caused by Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup in November.
Teams in east Asia will complete their group phase commitments on Sunday and the leading team on that side of the continent will eventually meet the top team from the west in the final over two legs on Feb 19 and 26.
Al Hilal will be among the favourites to win the title despite a lacklustre end to their group phase campaign, with Wednesday’s loss coming off the back of a draw with Sharjah.
The Saudis, who won their opening four games to take command of Group A, fell behind against Al Rayyan to an own goal from South Korean defender Jang Hyun-soo in the fifth minute.
Yohan Boli added a second for Al Rayyan two minutes before half time to hand Al Hilal their first defeat in this year’s competition and confirm the Qatari club’s progress.