Defending champions Al Hilal notched up a third win in a row in the group stages of the Asian Champions League in Riyadh on Friday as the Saudi Arabian club handed Istiklol a 1-0 defeat to move five points clear at the top of Group A.
Salman Al Faraj scored in the 52nd minute to avenge a shock loss at the hands of the side from Tajikistan in last year’s competition, the only defeat suffered by Al Hilal on their way to a record fourth Asian Champions League title.
Al Hilal are now five points ahead of second placed Sharjah from the United Arab Emirates, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Qatar’s Al Rayyan as the pair battle to keep pace with the champions.
Al Faraj netted from close range in the seventh minute of the second half, side-footing home a volley at the far post after Yasser Al Shahrani’s looping cross from the left had evaded the Istiklol defence.
Istiklol, who qualified for the knockout rounds last year in their debut appearance in the competition, have yet to pick up a point in their three games so far and are in danger of elimination.
Only the winners of each of the five groups in west Asia will progress to the knockout rounds, where they will be joined by the three runners-up with the best records.
Meanwhile, Al Faisaly moved onto seven points from three games in Group E, three points clear of their nearest rivals, as Julio Tavares’ 29th minute goal gave the club from Saudi Arabia a 1-0 win over Nasaf Qarshi from Uzbekistan.
The loss was Nasaf’s first defeat in three games and leaves them level on four points with Al Sadd, who handed Jordan’s Al Wehdat a 5-2 loss with Santi Cazorla and Andre Ayew among the scorers for the Qatari club.