Al-Nassr took a big step toward qualifying for the 2021 AFC Champions League knockout stages with a 2-0 win over Foolad Khouzestan at King Saud University Stadium, which puts the Saudi team top of Group D.
The match was a personal triumph for Abderrazak Hamdallah, the competition’s top scorer last year, who set up Abdulfattah Asiri’s 54th minute opener before sealing the points with spectacular solo goal of his own as Mano Menezes’ side climbed to eight points from four matches, one point ahead of Al-Sadd, who beat Al-Wehdat 2-0 at King Fahd International Stadium in the group’s other match.
Foolad’s first defeat in the competition leaves the Iranian club three points adrift of the top spot, and they have to win Monday’s game against Al-Sadd if they are to have any hopes of progress.
The lack of a killer instinct ensured that neither side managed a breakthrough in an even but uninspiring first half. Foolad’s Mohamad Miri had the first sight of goal on the half-hour mark, but his effort was not firm enough to beat Waleed Ali in goal. The defenses also deserved credit for their work, with Foolad’s Mehran Mousravi and Aref Aghasi successfully handing Hamdallah’s threat. However, they couldn’t maintain that control after the break, however.
The match, and Hamdallah’s role in it, turned sharply in the 54th minute, with the Moroccan forward playing a major part in setting up the opening goal.
Having struggled to find top form in recent months, Hamdallah rediscovered his spark first by intercepting Mousavi’s pass out of defense and then slipping a fine pass to Asiri, who finished emphatically from 12 yards to give Al-Nassr the lead.
Foolad grew increasingly desperate for an equalizer, but Ali proved inspired in stopping whatever came his way in the Al-Nassr goal.
The rampant Hamdallah settled the match five minutes from time after cutting inside Mohammad Ghaseminejad, poking the ball through Moussa Coulibaly’s legs and delightfully chipping goalkeeper Mohsen Foroozan for one of the best goals of the competition so far.
The win means Al-Nassr could win the group by the end of Monday’s match against Al-Wehdat of Jordan, though that would depend on the outcome of Foolad’s meeting with Al-Sadd the same night.