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Dawsari delivers Hilal after misfiring
Asian Player of the Year Salem Al Dawsari missed two penalties but scored a wonder goal as Al Hilal sealed a spot in the Asian Champions League knockout stages on Tuesday night.
The Saudi Arabian winger, who was last month named the continent’s best men’s player, spurned a spot-kick in either half in the Group D tie against Navbahor in Uzbekistan.
However, he was not made to pay as substitute Malcolm struck the game’s opening goal, and Al Dawsari atoned with some distinction for the four-time champions late on.
Malcolm's effort, a rebound from Al Dawsari’s second saved penalty on 68 minutes, marked the Brazilian's first touch of the match. The goal was also his first in the competition since a summer move from Zenit Saint Petersburg.
With four minutes remaining, Al Dawsari then made safe the result lobbing Navbahor goalkeeper Utkir Yusupov from around 35 yards. Navbahor’s Ibrokhim Yuldoshev was sent off late on for a second bookable offence.
The 2-0 win was enough to take Hilal, runners-up last season, through to the last 16 as group winners, with one game to spare.
Navbahor, though, are still well placed to advance also, with Iran’s Nassaji Mazandaran and Indian’s Mumbai City already eliminated. Nassaji defeated the Champions League debutants 2-0 on Tuesday to confine Mumbai to a fifth successive loss.
In Group A, UAE’s Al Ain suffered their first defeat of this continental campaign when they lost 3-1 at home to Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan. The result mattered little to the 2003 champions, though, since Al Ain had already secured their place in the last 16.
In the group’s other fixture, Saudi Arabian side Al Fayha got only a second win of this campaign with a 3-1 home victory against Turkmenistan’s Ahal. Pakhtakor are second going into the final matchday, level on seven points with third-placed Fayha.
In the East Asian side of the draw, Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale made it five wins from five Group I matches to ease into the knockout stage, defeating Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim 5-0 at home.
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South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai stay second following a 3-1 victory against BG Pathum United in Thailand. Both BG Pathum United and Johor Darul Ta'zim will exit the competition at the group stage.
In Group G, Chinese Super League club Shandong Taishan went top by dispatching the already-eliminated Kaya FC-Iloilo of the Philippines 6-1 in Jinan, while Yokohama F Marinos suffered a potentially damaging 2-1 loss against South Korea's Incheon United.
Incheon and Yokohama each have nine points, with the Korean club second given their superior head-to-head record.
The group stage, which this year returned to a home-and-away format for the first time since early 2020, runs until mid-December, with the 10 pool winners and the six best second-placed teams advancing to the knockout rounds starting in February. The final takes place, across two legs, in May.