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Saudis Al Hilal into AFC Champions League final


Muscat (AFP) – Omar Kharbin scored twice as Saudi giants Al Hilal eased into the AFC Champions League final with a 6-2 aggregate victory over Iran’s Persepolis following a 2-2 draw in their semi-final second leg on Tuesday.

Al Hilal already had one foot in the final after an emphatic 4-0 victory over the leading Iranian side in the first leg, but Tuesday’s match proved much tougher with Persepolis taking the lead on two occasions only for Al Hilal to bounce back twice and clinch a draw.

Syrian star Kharbin, who scored a hat-trick in Al Hilal’s first-leg win, was the hero once again as he struck twice to help his side avoid defeat in a game played at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Muscat.

Nigerian Godwin Mensha put Persepolis ahead in the 16th minute, heading in from the centre of the box after receiving a cross from Vahid Amiri, who snatched the ball from Al Hilal’s Mohamed al-Burayk following a corner.

The goal briefly raised expectations of a miraculous comeback but the Iranians surrendered the advantage in the 30th minute when Mohamed Ansari fouled Salman al-Haraj and Kharbin converted from the spot with a crisp right-footed shot to equalise.

Mensha was again in the thick of the action in the 61st minute as he latched onto a pass from Ali Alipour and found the bottom-right corner with a clean shot from the left of the box to give Persepolis the lead once again.

Both teams were engaged in a keen tussle but it was Kharbin who again proved hard to contain with his fifth goal in two matches — a 76th-minute strike from a Salem al-Dawsari assist — ensuring a draw for his side.

Al Hilal, who won the Champions League in 1991 and 2000, will take on the winners of the other semi-final between Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds and China’s Shanghai SIPG.

They meet in their second leg on Wednesday after drawing 1-1 in the first leg last month.

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