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Hilal downs Tractorsazi to advance in ACL
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 04 - 05 - 2016

Brazilian striker Ailton came off the bench to score Saudi Al-Hilal's decisive second against Iranian Tractorsazi Tabriz Tuesday as the two-time winner picked up a 2-1 win that took it through to the Round-of-16 of the 2016 AFC Champions League.
Ailton, who replaced Yasir Al Shahrani seven minutes earlier, struck in the 72nd minute after Salem Al Dawsari had put Al Hilal in front in the 14th minute only for Aloys Nong to level three minutes after the restart.
Needing a win to be sure of advancing, the result ensured Hilal claimed second spot in Group C ahead of Pakhtakor, whose 3-0 win in Tashkent against Al Jazira proved to be academic as the Saudi side advanced in second place with one point more than the Uzbek club.
Hilal took the lead after just 14 minutes when Nawaf Al Abid surged into the Tractorsazi penalty area before cutting the ball back to Salem Al-Dawsari, who took one touch to control the ball before firing his left-foot shot across goalkeeper Mohammadreza Akhbari and into the far corner.
The Iranians restored parity two minutes into the second half when Sina Ashoori's long ball from the back was met by the head of Hilal defender Digao, but his clearance went only as far as Nong and his left-foot volley from 25 yards bobbled into the right corner of Fahad Al Thunayyan's goal.
Hilal seemed desperate for the winner and coach Georgios Donis threw caution to the wind when he withdrew defender Al-Shamrani and replaced him with Ailton.
The move paid off within minutes when the Brazilian forward pressured the Tractorsazi defense into a mistake in its own penalty area, taking possession before striking a right-foot shot that beat Akhbari to his left.
Ahli win in vain
Marquinho and Osama Hawsawi scored to earn Al Ahli a 2-0 win over Qatar's El Jaish on Tuesday, but it was not enough to secure Christian Gross' team a place in the Round of 16 of the 2016 AFC Champions League.
Al Ahli needed all three points while hoping Al Ain slipped up against Uzbekistan's Nasaf to have any chance of progressing to the knockout phase of the competition.
But with the Emiratis picking up a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan's Nasaf in the other game played in the group, Al Ahli's points total of nine from six games left them one adrift as El Jaish and Al Ain booked their places in the next phase.
Earlier, departing veteran Archie Thompson extended his Melbourne Victory career when he struck a rare AFC Champions League goal to steer his team into the last 16.
Thompson, 37, who shed tears last week when announcing the end of his 11-year Victory stint, netted what turned out to be a crucial second goal in a tense 2-1 win over Gamba Osaka.
In its final group game, Victory looked to be cruising into the knock-out stages at 2-0 up until Ademilson pulled one back for Gamba in the 84th minute, setting up a nervy finale.
But Victory made it through to join A-League rival Sydney FC in the next phase, in what has been a strong performance by the Australian teams heading into their domestic post-season.
Victory qualifies second in Group G behind Sven-Goran Eriksson's Shanghai SIPG, whose 0-3 defeat at the hands of Suwon Samsung Bluewings ultimately made no difference to the standings.
With Suwon leading Shanghai SIPG, Thompson's second career Champions League goal turned out to be vital when Brazilian forward Ademilson scored for Gamba with six minutes left.
In Group H defending champion Guangzhou Evergrande, who was already eliminated, posted a valedictory 1-0 win over Sydney FC thanks to Gao Lin's strike in the second minute.
But Sydney finished top of the group after second-placed Urawa Red Diamonds could only draw 1-1 with Pohang Steelers, with Zlatan Ljubijankic equalizing late on for the Japanese side.
Victory's Thompson has enjoyed a distinguished career, highlighted by his world-record 13 goals in Australia's 31-0 demolition of American Samoa in a World Cup qualifier in 2001.

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