Saudi club loom for ACL final

A rapid-fire brace from Nasser Al Shamrani saw Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia put one foot in the AFC Champions League (ACL) final, knocking off UAE’s Al Ain 3-0 in their semi-final first leg.

In front of over 57,000 local fans, Al Hilal struck three times in 10 second-half minutes in Riyadh on Wednesday morning (AEST) to take control of their two-legged ACL semi-final.

Al Shamrani, who played for Saudi Arabia in a recent 3-2 friendly loss to the Socceroos in London, scored in the 61st and 64th minutes to put the home side two goals in front.

The Saudi Arabian striker teed up Thiago Neves for Al Hilal’s third, soon after the Brazilian had failed to convert a penalty.

With Western Sydney Wanderers FC set to play last season’s ACL runners-up FC Seoul in the other semi-final first leg tonight (kick off 8.30pm AEST), the Hyundai A-League club looks likely to play Al Hilal in the continental decider if they can overcame the South Korean capital outfit.

Al Ain face a huge task at home in the United Arab Emirates in a fortnight if they are to overturn their first leg deficit.

After holding on for over an hour in Saudi Arabia, Al Ain finally conceded when Al Shamrani burst onto a lofted pass, cut inside his marker and then squeezed his shot under the bar and past the visiting goalkeeper Khalid Essa from a very tight angle.

It was 2-0 three minutes later when Neves released Abdullah Al Zoari down the left and the full-back cut the ball back for Al Shamrani to tap in.

In the 70th minute, Essa was sent off when he brought down Al Hilal’s Nawaf Al Abid in the box but Al Ain’s replacement keeper Dawoud Sulaiman saved Neves’ spot-kick.

Neves made up for that just a minute later, converting after Al Shamrani fed him the ball directly in front.
If Al Hilal reach the final, the Saudi club will have the chance to claim their third ACL title, having won previous incarnations of the competition in 1991 and 2000.