Saudi powerhouse into ACL final

Western Sydney Wanderers will face two-time Asian champions Al Hilal if they advance to the AFC Champions League (ACL) final after the Saudis booked their spot on Wednesday morning (AEST).

Despite losing 2-1 away to Al Ain in their semi-final second leg, Al Hilal’s 3-0 advantage from their home match ensured they will play in their fourth ACL final, although Lee Myung-joo’s first-half strike may have given them cause for concern.

Nasser Al Shamrani – Al Hilal’s star of the first leg – pulled the visitors level in the 65th minute, before Al Ain’s Asamoah Gyan was dismissed for a two-footed challenge.

Jires Kembo-Ekoko nevertheless touched home from close range to give Al Ain a second-leg lead with 12 minutes left but the aggregate score proved too big a mountain to climb for the club from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Western Sydney will host FC Seoul in the other semi-final second leg tonight at Wanderland with the tie locked at 0-0.

Both goalkeepers almost got caught hesitating on the ball in the early stages at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in the UAE but it was not long before Al Ain made a dent in Al Hilal’s lead.

Lee managed to evade his marker to get on the end of an Omar Abdulrahman free-kick and nod home from close range in the 10th minute.

Gyan saw a header well saved by goalkeeper Abdullah Al Sudairy, before Al Hilal defender Digao sent the ball inches wide at the other end when Al Ain goalkeeper Waleed Salem failed to deal with a set-piece.

Al Shamrani prodded home an important away goal in the 65th minute to leave Al Ain needing an unlikely four goals to reach the final, and any slim chances of a turnaround appeared over when Gyan saw red five minutes later.

The Ghana captain made a reckless scissor challenge on Salem Al Dawsari and refused to leave the field for a long period after being given his marching orders.

An irate Gyan was eventually ushered down the tunnel, before his side pulled back another goal through Kembo-Ekoko.

Mohamed Ahmad chipped a cross into the six-yard box from a tight angle, with the Frenchman touching the ball into the net on the line.

Al Ain continued to press, with Lee having an effort cleared off the line five minutes from time but 2-1 was how it remained, with Al Hilal going on to face Seoul or the Wanderers in the final.

Al Hilal won the ACL’s predecessor – the AFC Club Championship in 1991 and 2000 – while they have also claimed two titles each in the now-defunct Asian Cup Winner’s Cup and Asian Super Cup.