RIYADH/JEONJU: Uzbek winger Jaloliddin Masharipov struck a second-half brace as Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nassr thrashed the UAE’s Al Wahda 5-1 to storm into the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League on Saturday. Al-Nassr will now meet compatriots Al-Hilal tomorrow in a Riyadh derby after the three-time champions saw off Iranian giants Persepolis 3-0 in the second quarter-final from AFC’s western zone. Meanwhile, title-holders Ulsan Hyundai will play fellow South Korean side Pohang Steelers in Wednesday’s semi-finals as they close in on an unprecedented third AFC Champions League crown.
The AFC were forced to play the quarter-finals in a single-leg format after the COVID-19 pandemic played havoc with the scheduling. Masharipov, who joined Al-Nassr from Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor this year, had vowed to do his best in the match. “I promise our fans that I will give my best and so will all of my teammates to meet the fans’ expectations and ambitions,” he told the AFC website on Friday.
And sure enough the 28-year-old delivered in style, first by providing the assist for Abderazzak Hamdallah to score Al-Nassr’s opening goal in the seventh minute and then booting home the second seven minutes after the break as he cut in from the left flank and beat Al Wahda goalkeeper Mohamed al-Shamsi with ease.
Abdulfattah Asiri added the third goal in the 56th minute before Masharipov made it 4-0 in the 65th on a pass from Hamdallah with a composed finish. Al-Wahda, who were on a six-match unbeaten run in the tournament, just couldn’t cope against the better organized Saudis and conceded their fifth goal with Sami al-Naji firing home in the 75th minute. The Emiratis managed to pull one back in stoppage time but Ismaeil Matar’s strike was too little too late as they crashed out of the tournament at this stage for the third time.
Also in Riyadh, Al-Hilal made light work of Persepolis with star striker Bafetimbi Gomis on target twice in the second half. Salam al-Dawsari put the 2019 winners ahead in the 27th minute, making good on a long pass by Mohamed Kano and blasting the ball past goalkeeper Hamed Lak whose full-length dive went in vain.
Frenchman Gomis made it 2-0 five minutes after the break with an easy tap-in from a Matheus Pereira pass as Al Hilal completely dominated their rivals. Former Swansea striker Gomis got his second goal in the 70th minute following a spell of crisp passing involving Pereira and al-Dawsari to put Al Hilal within two wins of a possible fourth Asian title.
Elsewhere, substitute Lee Dong-gyeong hit a cracker in extra time as Ulsan squeezed past another Korean team, Jeonbuk Motors, 3-2 in a thriller at Jeonju World Cup Stadium yesterday. Earlier at the same arena, where a modest crowd was socially distanced because of coronavirus rules, Pohang defeated Japan’s Nagoya Grampus 3-0 to book their last-four spot.
In a terrific clash between the top two in the K League, Ulsan went ahead against Jeonbuk in the 13th minute thanks to a spectacular strike from Valeri Qazaishvili. The Georgian international picked the ball on the edge of the box, danced his way past three defenders and pinged the ball into the top corner.
Home side Jeonbuk hit back six minutes before half-time through Han Kyo-won, but Ulsan retook the lead in scrappy fashion in the first minute of injury time, with Yun Il-lok pouncing from close range. Jeonbuk were level again however just three minutes into the second half when Japanese forward Takahiro Kunimoto chested the ball down and volleyed into the bottom corner.
The two sides went into extra time locked at 2-2, before Lee stepped up to smash the ball into the net from outside the box in the 101st minute. In the other quarter-final, Lim Sang-hyub scored twice as Pohang sealed their place in the last four. Pohang failed to have a shot on target in the first half, but the 2009 champions cranked up the pressure on Nagoya in the second period, with Lee Seung-mo grabbing the other in an ultimately comfortable triumph for the Koreans. – AFP