By Michael Church
April 11 (Reuters) – Qatar’s Al Gharafa moved top of Asian Champions League Group C with a 2-0 win over Ahal of Turkmenistan after Iranian side Foolad drew 1-1 with Shabab Al Ahli in Jeddah on Sunday.
Cheick Diabate put Al Gharafa in front on the hour with a downward header inside the six-yard box following Homam Ahmed’s looping cross and Ahmed Alaa Eldin confirmed the result three minutes from time with an emphatic finish into the corner.
The win moves Andrea Stramaccioni’s side onto four points, two points clear at the summit after two rounds in the competition, the group phase of which is being played in biosecure centralised hubs in Saudi Arabia due to the pandemic.
Former finalists Shabab Al Ahli from the United Arab Emirates eked out a draw with Foolad earlier on Sunday when Federico Cartabia equalised in added time.
Ahmad Noorollahi was credited with an own goal after his deflection took Hamid Bouhamdan’s shot past goalkeeper Majed Nasser with seven minutes left but Cartabia earned Shabab Al Ahli a point when he tapped in Yahya Al Ghassani’s late cross.
In Group D, Pakhtakor’s Khojimat Erkinov struck in the 83rd minute to give them their first win in this year’s competition as the Uzbekistan side beat Saudi Arabia’s Al Taawoun 1-0.
Pakhtakor’s win mean all four teams in the section are level on three points after Michael Olunga, the top scorer in last season’s competition, netted a late goal for Qatari side Al Duhail in a 1-0 victory over Sepahan of Iran.
The winners of the five groups from the west of the continent are guaranteed to reach the last 16, where they will be joined by the three runners-up with the best records.
Clubs in the east of Asia will begin their Asian Champions League campaigns on Friday, with matches being held in Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Ken Ferris)