By Michael Church
Nov 27 (Reuters) – Al-Nassr booked their place in the knockout rounds of the Asian Champions League on Monday as the Saudi Pro League side claimed a 0-0 draw with Iran’s Persepolis despite playing most of the game in Riyadh with 10 men.
The point gained ensured Al-Nassr will finish on top of Group E despite having one group game left to play and seeing Ali Lajami dismissed in the 17th minute for a reckless tackle on Milad Sarlak.
Only the group winners are certain to progress to the last 16 but Persepolis could take one of the three best runners-up berths available in the next phase if they defeat Qatar’s Al-Duhail in their final group game on Dec. 5.
Al-Duhail are already eliminated despite defeating Turkmenistan’s Istiklol 2-0 in Doha thanks to a pair of Michael Olunga headers.
Al-Sadd, meanwhile, pulled themselves back into contention for a place in the last 16 with a 2-0 win over Sharjah from the United Arab Emirates in Group B through goals from Gonzalo Plata and Baghdad Bounedjah.
Plato struck nine minutes into the game after Darwish Mohammed parried Akram Afif’s initial shot while Bounedjah headed in the second from a Pedro Miguel cross from the right on the hour mark.
The win moves Al-Sadd onto seven points from five games and, while it keeps Bruno Pinheiro’s team in third place in the group, the former champions are three points behind new leaders Nasaf with one round remaining.
Nasaf went behind to a goal from Reziq Bani Hani but Mateus, Zafarmurod Abdurakhmatov and Marko Stanojevic struck in the second half to defeat Jordan’s Al-Faisaly 3-1 in Qarshi and go top of the standings.
Sharjah are second on eight points and could still advance with a win over Al-Faisaly on Dec. 4 while Al-Sadd will need to defeat Nasaf to have any chance of progressing.
In Group C, Iran’s Sepahan survived a pair of red cards to defeat Air Force Club from Iraq 1-0 in Tehran and stay two points adrift of leaders Al-Ittihad from Saudi Arabia.
Farshad Ahmadzadeh gave Sepahan a fourth-minute lead but Mohammad Hosseinnezhad’s sending off in the 43rd minute was followed by a red card for Hadi Mohammadi in the 90th minute.
Sepahan clung on during 10 minutes of stoppage time to take the three points and now sit in second behind Al-Ittihad, who defeated Uzbekistan’s AGMK 2-1 thanks to a pair of first half goals from Abderrazak Hamdallah.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Christian Radnedge)