Saudi Arabian heavyweights Al Ittihad maintained their hopes of a third continental title claiming a dramatic 2-1 home victory over domestic rivals Al Shabab to book their place in the quarter-finals of this year's AFC Champions League. The progression of the national league champions proved the only shining light for Saudi fans with three of their four teams falling.
Al Hilal lost to Umm Salal of Qatar on penalties while tournament debutants Ettifaq suffered a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Uzbekistan's Pakhtakor. Both results proved upsets with both Saudi clubs at home having topped their respective groups earlier this month.
In the final round of 16 match to be played in west Asia, Bunyodkor's Brazilian star Rivaldo scored the only goal from the penalty spot against Persepolis as the reigning Uzbek champions stormed into the last eight in front of a large crowd at Tehran's daunting Azadi Stadium.
The four qualifiers now must await the results of matches featuring their east Asian counterparts, who will do battle for the remaining four quarter-finals berths on 24 June. The draw for the latter knockout stages will be conducted after the quarter-final line-up is completed.
Game of the day
Ettifaq (KSA) 1-2 Pakhtakor (UZB)
Despite boasting a 100 per cent home record in winning Group D, Ettifaq failed to reproduce winning form at home against Pakhtakor. Spurred on by some vociferous home support, Ettifaq dominated the first half and went into the lead after 33 minutes through their prolific Ghanaian striker Prince Tagoe who scored his eighth goal of the tournament. Pakhtakor clawed their way back into the game when Zaynitdin Tadjiyev netted the equalizer with eleven minutes remaining, before Uzbek international Alexander Geynrikh stunned the hosts with a well-struck free-kick deep into injury time.
Surprise of the day
Al Hilal (KSA) 0:0, PSO 3-4 Umm Salal (QAT)
Umm Salal coach Gerard Gili could have been forgiven for employing an ultra-defensive game plan against their strongly favoured hosts Al Hilal, who boast one of Asia's deadlier attacks in Swede Christian Wilhelmsson, Saudi Arabia captain Yasser Al Qahtani and Korea Republic international Seol Ki-Hyeon. The home side did create some openings only to find goalkeeper Baba Malick in inspired form. After 120 scoreless minutes the Umm Salal custodian proved the difference in a dramatic penalty shoot-out, blocking shots by Tareq El Taib and Mohammed Al Shalhoub to send the Qatari side through.
Last year's semi-finalists Bunyodkor demonstrated their credentials inflicting a rare home defeat on Iranian teams playing at the Azadi. Rivaldo rolled back the years with an impressive display being the focal point for much of Bunyodkor's attacking forays in the opening stanza. Four minutes before the break, the former FIFA World Player of the Year earned a penalty which he duly converted for what proved the winner.
In an all-Saudi affair, Al Shabab, playing with confidence on the back of their 4-0 win over Al Ittihad in the recent King's Cup final, seemed on their way again when Abdulaziz bin Saran put the visitors ahead after 17 minutes. Parity though was quickly restored courtesy of Osama Al Harbi's reply for the hosts. The two rivals separated only when Al Ittihad's Moroccan striker Hicham Aboucherouane scored with a left-footed strike in the third minute of injury time.
What they said
"Even after Al Shabab scored the first goal, I had a feeling that we would win the game. The players were seeking to beat Al Shabab and we won thanks to their efforts during the entire match," Al Ittihad coach Gabriel Calderon.
2009 AFC Champions League Round of 16 results:
Al Hilal (KSA) 0:0, PSO 3-4 Umm-Salal (QAT)
Persepolis (IRN) 0-1 Bunyodkor (UZB)
Al Ittihad (KSA) 2-1 Al Shabab (KSA)
Ettifaq (KSA) 1-2 Pakhtakor (UZB)