Soccer-Iran’s Esteghlal Suffers Narrow Defeat Against Qatar’s Al Duhail

By Michael Church

HONG KONG, April 22 (Reuters) – Kenyan striker Michael Olunga scored five minutes from time to complete his hat-trick and earn Qatar’s Al Duhail a 4-3 win over Esteghlal from Iran in group C of the Asian Champions League in Jeddah on Wednesday.

The three-goal haul for Olunga, who joined the Qatari club in January after finishing as the top scorer in Japan’s J-League last season, moved Al Duhail into top spot in the group, one point ahead of Esteghlal.

Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia are in third place following their 3-0 win over Iraq’s Al Shorta, with only the group winners guaranteed to advance to the next phase of the competition.

Esteghlal had taken the lead four minutes into their meeting with Al Duhail when Amir Motahari headed home but Olunga levelled the scores six minutes later from close range.

Olunga put his side in front in the 27th minute before Cheick Diabate equalised seven minutes later, but Abdullah Abdulsalam’s goal from six yards out, two minutes before the interval gave the Qatari club the half-time lead.

Esteghlal equalised again 15 minutes from time thanks to Farshid Esmaeili’s header, but Olunga completed his hat-trick in the 85th minute with a strike on the turn that earned Sabri Lamouchi’s side the three points.

In Riyadh, 2019 champions Al Hilal picked up their second win with a 3-1 victory over tournament debutants Istiklol from Tajikistan to take command of group A.

A second-half brace from Saudi Arabia international striker Hattan Bahebri sealed a win that moves Al Hilal on to seven points, four clear of Istiklol and AGMK.

The club from Uzbekistan handed Shabab Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates a 2-1 defeat courtesy of Akramjon Komilov’s injury time winner to claim their first-ever victory in the competition’s group phase.

Clubs in the western half of Asia are playing the group phase of this year’s Asian Champions League in a series of centralised venues due to the ongoing pandemic.

The winners of the 10 groups across the competition will qualify for the last 16 alongside the six best runners up, with games in the east of the continent due to be played in June and July.

The knockout phase of the Asian Champions League is scheduled to be held from September.

(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)