Koreans stumbled as Saudis shine

Korea Republic’s hopes of a second consecutive AFC Champions League title were dealt a blow on Wednesday with three of their four teams suffering defeat in quarter-final first-leg action. Saudi Arabia’s two remaining participants meanwhile were the big winners on the night as both Al Shabab and Al Hilal prevailed over their respective opponents.

Defending champions Pohang Steelers lost 2-1 at Zobahan, while hosts Jeonbuk Motors suffered an unexpected 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Al Shabab despite dominating the match. The only victorious K-League side were Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma who impressed as 4-1 winners over Suwon Bluewings in an all-Korean clash. However the standout showing was from Al Hilal, who fired three unanswered goals past Qatar’s Al Gharafa for a resounding triumph.

The big match
Al Hilal 3-0 Al Gharafa
Goals: Mohammed Al Shalhoub 13, Ahmed Al Fraidi 59, Waleed Algizani 85

Al Hilal maintained their fine form, which had seen them dispatch Bunyodkor 3-0 in the Round of 16, by defeating Al Gharafa with an identical scoreline to give themselves a huge advantage heading into the second leg. Midfielder Mohammed Al Shalhoub and Ahmed Al Fraidi scored either side of half-time, before Waleed Algizani sealed the points five minutes from time.

Despite playing without suspended Swedish play-maker Christian Wilhelmsson, Al Hilal created numerous openings with Thiago Neves in ominous form being the architect of their opening two goals. The Brazilian firstly launched an attacking move completed by Al Shalhoub after thirteen minutes, before his inswinging free-kick led to their second goal with Al Fraidi finishing just on the hour-mark. Substitute striker Algizani had the final say of the game when he twisted past his markers to score with a low shot.

The surprise
Jeonbuk Motors 0-2 Al Shabab
Goals: Fahad Hamad 68, Juan Manuel Olivera

In the 2006 edition of the tournament Al Shabab crashed 7-0 on aggregate against K-League side Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i at the quarter-final stage, but this time around the scoreline could not have been starker as they came away from the home of Jeonbuk Motors with a 2-0 win. Fahad Hamad opened the scoring for the visitors eight minutes after the hour-mark before Juan Manuel Olivera scored the winner with three minutes remaining leaving the 2006 champions staring at elimination.

Heading into the game with a clear mental edge, Jeonbuk dominated the proceedings in the opening half with Eninho, Sim Woo-Yeon and Lee Dong-Gook all close to opening the scoring. They were eventually punished for their profligacy in front of goal as Al Shabab scored somewhat against the run of play on 68 minutes with Hamad pouncing on an attempted clearance to slot home. The visitors were reduced to ten men in the closing stages but the hosts' hopes of any comeback were shattered as Olivera surged clear to seal a crucial away victory.

The other headliners
Having stunned the likes of Al Ittihad and Bunyodkor in the group-phase campaign, Iranian league pace-setters Zobahan continued their good run by overcoming reigning champions Pohang 2-1. The hosts had Igor Castro to thank as the Brazilian import put them ahead after eighteen minutes. After Pohang levelled through Mota, it was again Castro who played a pivotal role, this time by winning a penalty with Mahdi Rajabzadeh comfortably converting.

Elsewhere, the all-Korean meeting produced the biggest scoreline with five goals produced in a competitive, entertaining affair. Seongnam's Montenegrin striker Dzenan Radoncic emerged the two-goal hero for the home side with a goal in each half. He broke the deadlock on eight minutes and after Yeom Ki-Hun pulled level for Suwon and Mauricio Molina restored the hosts' lead, Radoncic again hit the target mid-way through the second half to put the game beyond the doubt. Suwon’s woes deepened when Yang Sang-Min scored an own goal which gifted Seongnam a three-goal cushion and a near unassailable margin heading into next week’s return.

The stat
– Despite Suwon Bluewings defeat, Brazilian striker Jose Mota remains the tournament’s top-scorer with nine goals in as many games.

What they said
"All Iranians were watching us in this match to see what we would do and I'm happy that we were successful." Zobahan coach Mansour Ebrahimzadeh

2010 AFC Champions League quarter-final first-leg results
15 September
Al Hilal (KSA) 3-0 Al Gharafa (QAT)
Zobahan (IRN) 2-1 Pohang Steelers (KOR)
Jeonbuk Motors (KOR) 0-2 Al Shabab (KSA)
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (KOR) 4-1 Suwon Bluewings (KOR)