Al-Ahli Saudi FC of Saudi Arabia became the first team to reach the 2020 AFC Champions League round of 16, with a late Marko Marin goal earning them a 1-0 win over Iraq’s Al-Shorta in Group A on Monday.
Following the decision by the AFC’s COVID-19 sub-committee to withdraw Al-Wahda and render their matches null and void, Al-Ahli found themselves in need of just three points to guarantee a top-two spot in the now three-team Group A.
With just four minutes to go, Al-Ahli found a breakthrough as former Chelsea winger Marin drove into the heart of the Al-Shorta defense, and after a quick one-two with Abdulrahman Ghareeb, the German kept his composure to slot home from six yards.
The two sides meet again on the same ground on Thursday.
The other match in Group A between Al-Wahda of the United Arab Emirates and Iran’s Esteghlal FC was abandoned.
In Group B, a late Hattan Bahebri strike helped Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal defeat the ten men of Uzbekistan side Pakhtakor 2-1.
Both sides were positive from the start, with both Uzbek and Saudi league champions looking to gain further ground on Shabab Al-Ahli and Shahr Khodro FC, the former having narrowly beaten the latter 1-0 in Monday’s early Group B game.
Former Juventus and Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco broke the deadlock deep into first-half injury-time with a beautifully curled free-kick from just outside the area.
Pakhtakor goalkeeper Suyonov was sent off in the 65th minute and Sanzar Kuvvatov was brought on to take his place. But almost instantly, the Uzbek side rallied at the other end of the pitch and replied with a goal, as substitute striker Eren Derdiyok blasted in the rebound after Dragan Ceran’s initial effort was saved.
But Bahabri gave his side all three points after his long-range effort was deflected into the net in the final minute of stoppage time.
The result sends Al-Hilal three points clear at the top of Group B with nine points, while Pakhtakor stay second with six points. The two sides face off again on Thursday.