Al Hilal edge 10-man Pakhtakor as AFC Champions League returns

Defending champions Al Hilal Saudi FC maintained their perfect record in this season's AFC Champions League by beating a 10-man Pakhtakor Tashkent side 2-1 at the Al Janoub Stadium in Qatar as the Asian continental club competition returned after a six-month delay.

Former Juventus star Sebastian Giovinco gave the Saudi champions the lead with an outstanding free kick in the first half. But a spirited Pakhtakor struck back through Swiss striker Eren Derdiyok in the 70th minute despite having their goalkeeper Eldorbek Suyunov sent off six minutes earlier for denying Bafetimbi Gomis with his hands outside the box.

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But the 2019 Asian champions had the last laugh in an entertaining match as Hattan Bahebri's belter in the seventh minute of the second-half injury time slipped in through the gloves of substitute shot-stopper Sanjar Kuvvatov -- giving Al Hilal all 3 points and a 3-point lead in Group B.

Just hours before Monday's restart, the Asian Football Confederation had confirmed that UAE's Al Wahda FC will not feature in the tournament after they were placed under quarantine by Emirati authorities following positive coronavirus tests and failed to reach Doha.

Group A of the Champions League is now a three-team affair and the matches played by Al Wahda in the pool are considered "null and void." The points and goals from the two matches they played will be taken out of the group standings.

In the only Group A fixture of the day, Al Ahli Saudi FC left it late to defeat Iraq's Al Shorta SC 1-0 at the Khalifa International Stadium and register the Saudi Professional League outfit's third win from as many games in the ACL this season.

The Iraqi champions were improving for most of the first half, until a second yellow card for right-back Alaa Ali Mhawi saw them go down to 10 men before the interval. Vladan Milojevic's side tried to make their numerical advantage count after the break but had to wait until the 87th minute for the breakthrough that guaranteed their place in the Round of 16.

It was former Chelsea and Werder Bremen winger Marko Marin who sunk Al Shorta grabbing his first goal in the continental competition by turning in a pass from substitute Abdulrahman Ghareeb. The two sides will meet again in the reverse fixture on Thursday.

In the second Group B tie of the night, 17-year-old Emirati winger Harib Abdullah Suhail scored the winning goal for Shabab Al Ahli Club against IR Iran's Shahr Khodro FC to give his side the first points of their 2020 ACL campaign.

Both Shabab Al Ahli and Shahr Khodro had lost their opening fixtures to Al Hilal and Pakhtakor. It was the UAE squad who looked more dangerous in this meeting, however, with former AFC Footballer of the Year Ahmed Khalil creating problems for the back line.

But it Shabab Al Ahli's young substitute Harib who made the difference as he went on a solo run from the halfway line in the 75th minute which ended in the only goal of the game. A first ACL win under new manager Gerard Zaragoza keeps their knockout hopes alive before the two sides meet again on the next matchday.

Qatar is hosting all the group stage matches in the west until September 24. The knockout stages will follow ending with the semifinal scheduled to be held at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium on October 4. The East Zone fixtures are expected to resume in October with the league final slated for December.