Iraq's Al Shorta stun Al Ahli in Asian Champions League

(Reuters) - Iraqi champions Al Shorta won their first Asian Champions League match with a 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli in the Doha hub on Thursday to give themselves a good shot at a place in the last 16.

The withdrawal of Emirati club Al Wahda before the resumption of the competition after a rash of COVID-19 cases in their squad left Group A with only three teams.

Al Ahli secured their place in the knockout stages on Monday with a victory over Al Shorta as Asia’s premier club competition returned after a seven-month shutdown, but the Iraqis were able to secure swift revenge at Khalifa International Stadium.

Goals from Saad Natiq and Mazin Fayyadh either side of halftime sandwiched Mohammed Al-Majhad’s effort for Al Ahli and put Al Shorta second in the group three points clear of Iran’s Esteghlal.

That sets up a crunch final group game for Al Shorta against Esteghlal at the same 2022 World Cup stadium on Sunday, where a draw would secure them a place in the next round.

It would be a remarkable achievement for a club who remain champions of Iraq only because the 2019-20 season was first disrupted by civil unrest and then abandoned because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The six-times Iraqi Premier League champions reached the final of the Asian Champions League’s forerunner in 1971 but refused to play for the title against Maccabi Tel Aviv in protest at the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

In Group B matches on Thursday, reigning champions Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia were held to a 0-0 draw by Uzbeki champions Pakhtakor and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai beat Iranian outfit Shahr Khodro 1-0.

Al Hilal top the group on 10 points with two matches to play, three points clear of Pakhtakor with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai a point further back in third. The top two from each group qualify for the knockout stages.

Matches in the four East Asian groups resume in a hub in Malaysia in October. The final will be in Doha on Dec. 19.

Writing by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford