Doha (AFP) – Former Germany and Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin struck the only goal of the match as Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli beat Iraq’s Al Shorta to become the first team to qualify for the knockout phase of the Asian Champions League on Monday.

The tournament, which resumed after almost seven months following the outbreak of the new coronavirus pandemic, is being played in the Qatari capital where spectators are barred and players and officials subject to regular testing under strict health protocols.

Two-times runners-up Al Ahli progressed to the last 16 after the UAE’s Al Wahda were considered withdrawn from Group A as they failed to travel to Qatar following several positive tests among the squad for Covid-19.

That meant the Saudi side had to secure only three points to guarantee a top-two finish in the three-team group, and Marin’s 87th-minute strike from close following a pass from Abdulrahman Ghareeb ensured just that at the Khalifa International Stadium.

In a fast-paced match both teams missed close chances with the goalkeepers called into play several times.

Al Shorta were reduced to 10 men seconds before the first half ended with Ali Mhawi earning his second yellow card, but that didn’t seem to matter much as the Iraqis still managed to create pressure for their rivals.

However, Al Ahli gained control towards the final 20 minutes and following an exchange of passes Marin produced a calm finish from six yards to help his team win three points.

In another early match, substitute Harib Abdallah scored a brilliant solo goal as Shabab Al Ahli of the UAE pipped Iran’s Shahr Khodro 1-0 to open their points tally in Group B.

Both sides were under pressure having lost their two opening matches but Abdallah produced a dazzling run down the right flank getting past several Shahr Khodro players before scoring in the 75th minute.