By Michael Church
Dec 5 (Reuters) – Al-Fayha ensured a full house of Saudi Pro League sides in the last 16 of the Asian Champions League on Tuesday as a 4-1 win over Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor saw Vuk Rasovic’s team pip Persepolis from Iran to a berth in the knockout rounds.
Junior Fashion Sakala scored twice to help secure Al-Fayha’s victory over Maksim Shatkikh’s side in Tashkent, which coupled with Persepolis’ 2-1 loss in Tehran against Qatar’s Al-Duhail took Al-Fayha through as one of the three best runners-up.
Al-Fayha finished second in Group A behind Al-Ain, who won 2-1 against Turkmenistan’s Ahal, but their nine points saw them take the final runners-up berth in the last 16 after Navbahor and Sepahan had already claimed the first two slots.
Only the winners of the 10 groups across the western and eastern halves of the continent were guaranteed to progress to the knockout rounds, with the three runners-up with the best records from each side of the continent also going through.
Persepolis, beaten finalists in 2018 and 2020, needed a win over already-eliminated Al-Duhail at a packed Azadi Stadium to progress and took a seventh-minute lead through Shahab Zahedi.
But Mohammed Muntari levelled two minutes later and, after Persepolis’ Giorgi Gvelesiani hit the bar with an 81st-minute penalty, Al-Duhail stole the three points when Michael Olunga scored on the break seven minutes from time.
The loss left Persepolis in second place in Group E and on eight points, one fewer than Al-Fayha.
Riyadh’s Al-Nassr had already confirmed themselves as Group E winners ahead of Tuesday’s games and a side missing Cristiano Ronaldo was held to a 1-1 draw by Tajikistan’s Istiklol in Dushanbe.
Alisher Dzhalilov gave the home side the lead in the 32nd minute from distance but Abdulrahman Ghareeb levelled five minutes into the second half as Al-Nassr finished the group phase unbeaten.
Fellow Saudis Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal had already confirmed their places in the next round by winning Groups C and D respectively while Uzbekistan’s Nasaf advanced on Monday as Group B winners.
The draw for the round of 16 will be held in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 28 and the first legs of the knockout phase will be played from Feb. 12-14 with the return fixtures held from Feb. 19-21.
The quarter-finals will be played in March, with the semi-finals in April and the two legged final on May 11 and 18.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Toby Davis)