Soccer- Iran’s Esteghlal Secures Two Wins At AFC Champions League

FILE PHOTO: Omer Barry (R) of Qatar's Al-Rayyan dives for the ball against Hanif Omran Zadeh of Iran's Esteghlal. REUTERS./

By Michael Church

HONG KONG, April 19 (Reuters)  Iran’s Esteghlal made it two wins from two with a 3-0 victory over Al Shorta from Iraq in Jeddah, during a Group C tournament.

Mohammad Naderi, Farshid Esmaeili and Cheick Diabate all scored as Farhad Majidi’s team moved two points clear of Qatar’s Al Duhail, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia.

Tournament debutants Istiklol from Tajikistan picked up their first-ever win in the Asian Champions League on Sunday with a 3-2 victory over Uzbekistan’s AGMK, moving them into a share of top spot in group A with former champions Al Hilal.

An own goal from Jovan Dokic as well as efforts from Manuchekhr Dzhalilov and Muhammadjon Rakhimov secured the points for the club from Dushanbe in Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium.

The win pulls Istiklol level with the 2019 winners, who defeated Shabab Al Ahli from the United Arab Emirates 2-0 courtesy of goals from Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo.

Only the group winners are guaranteed to advance to the last 16 of the newly expanded competition, and Istiklol take on the club from Saudi Arabia in their next game on Wednesday.

Istiklol went in front in first half injury time when Dokic deflected the ball into his own net, and Dzhalilov doubled his side’s lead 10 minutes after the restart when he beat Valijon Rahimov at his near post.

Zafar Polvonov pulled one back for AGMK less than two minutes later, only for Rakhimov to restore the two-goal cushion in the 80th minute with a shot across the AGMK goalkeeper.

That left Polvonov’s 90th minute goal as little more than a consolation for AGMK.

Clubs in the western half of Asia are playing the group phase of this year’s competition in centralised biosecure hubs throughout the region due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The winners of each of the 10 groups across the tournament will qualify for the last 16 alongside the six best runners-up.

Teams in the east are scheduled to play in the competition in June and July, with the knockout rounds set to commence in September.

(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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