Ten-man Al Hilal hammer Persepolis to close on Asian Champions League final
Ten-man Al Hilal ruthlessly dismissed Iran's Persepolis on Tuesday evening as the Saudi Arabian club put one foot in the final of the Asian Champions League with an ominous 4-0 demolition of the Tehran side.
Omar Kharbin scored a hat trick and Yassir Al Shahrani was also on the scoresheet as the two-time Asian champions look to reach their first ACL final since losing to Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014.
Al Hilal dominated despite the loss of Abdullah Otayf four minutes into the second half and Ramon Diaz's side will be overwhelming favourites to advance to November's decider when the teams meet in the second leg in Muscat, Oman next month.
Persepolis struggled without key striker Mehdi Taremi, who has been suspended for four months by FIFA due to a contractual breach, as well as Jalal Hosseini and Mohammad Ansari, and the absence of the trio left Branko Ivankovic's side lacking their usual balance.
The pace of Al Shahrani and Salem Al Dawsari on the break gave Al Hilal a potency that Persepolis lacked and the Riyadh-based club used it to ruthless effect.
It took time, however, for the Saudi side to set their sights, with Nicolas Milesi and Carlos Eduardo both skewing efforts well off target inside the opening 30 minutes.
A shade after the half-hour mark, though, Al Hilal proved they had perfected their finishing skills when Kharbin redirected Mohammed Al Burayk's cross across goal with a downward header and into the bottom corner of Alireza Beiranvand's goal.
Nine minutes later the lead was doubled when Al Shahrani, who had moments later skied an attempt over the bar, stepped inside to fire a low shot beyond Beiranvand from the outside of the area, beating the goalkeeper to his right.
The two-goal lead was the least a rampant Al Hilal deserved and, in the second half, the 1991 and 2000 Asian Club Championship winners further underlined their superiority despite the loss of Otayf.
The 25-year-old, who had already been booked, picked up a second caution when his late lunge upended Shayan Mosleh and referee Kim Jeong-hyeok had no hesitation to hand the midfielder another yellow card.
It mattered little for an Al Hilal side bursting with confidence, with Kharbin claiming his second five minutes later via another rapid counterattack as he deftly steered Al Dawsari's low cross from the right into the far corner.
And, with just a minute remaining on the clock, the Syrian completed his hat trick by punishing Persepolis' back-pedalling defence as he unleashed a low strike beyond the beleaguered Beiranvand.
The teams meet again on Oct. 17 with the winners due to meet either Shanghai SIPG or Urawa Red Diamonds in the final, but on this evidence Al Hilal can be confident of advancing to yet another continental final.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch