By Michael Church
April 20 (Reuters) – Defending champions Al Hilal booked their place in the knockout rounds of the Asian Champions League on Tuesday as a 3-0 win by the Saudi Arabian side over Tajikistan’s Istiklol in Riyadh kept their perfect record intact.
Former Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo struck twice in the first half before Salem Al Dawsari added a third in injury time at the end of the game to give Ramon Diaz’s side a fourth win in a row in Group A.
The result means Al Hilal move onto 12 points and are certain to claim at minimum one of the three best runners-up slots in the last 16 of the competition.
Winners of each of the five groups in west Asia plus the three second-place finishers with the best records advance to the next round, which will be played in February next year.
Ighalo’s eighth minute header put Al Hilal in front and the Nigerian doubled the lead 12 minutes before the break with a strike on the turn. Al Dawsari tapped in from close range to put the seal on the win.
Qatar’s Al Rayyan moved into sole possession of second place in Group A with a 3-1 win over Sharjah of the United Arab Emirates, with Steven Nzonzi and Slot Dana Yacine Brahimi scoring to give Nicolas Cordova’s side victory.
Al Rayyan have seven points, three more than Sharjah while Istiklol, who have yet to claim a point, have been eliminated.
In Group E, Al Faisaly were held to a 0-0 draw by Nasaf Qarshi from Uzbekistan but the Saudi Arabian club continue to lead the standings by three points after Qatar’s Al Sadd slipped to a surprise 3-1 loss against Al Wehdat.
The Jordanians won their first game of this year’s group phase after Mohammad Al Dmeiri open the scoring three minutes into the second half with a shot from the edge of the area that slipped through the legs of goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.
Rodrigo Tabata levelled the scores from the edge of the area six minutes later but Khaled Assam’s close range finish on the hour was followed by Ahmed Samir’s goal on the break 15 minutes from time that gave Al Wehdat all three points.(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong; Editing by Christopher Cushing)