Last-minute goal sends UAE's Al Ahli into AFC Champions League final
Kwon Kyung-won’s injury-time winner delights fervent Dubai crowd, breaks Al Hilal’s hearts
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South Korean midfielder Kwon Kyung-won struck an injury-time winner as Al Ahli scrambled back from the brink for a 3-2 victory over last year’s losing finalists Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia in an intense semi-final second leg of the AFC Champions League late on Tuesday.
The Dubai club took the tie 4-3 on aggregate following their 1-1 draw in Riyadh in the first leg. They will now play in their first continental final against either Gamba Osaka of Japan or China’s Guangzhou Evergrande over two legs next month. Guangzhou hold a 2-1 lead going into Wednesday’s second leg in Japan.
Leading 2-0 at half-time on Tuesday, the Red Knights squandered their position of strength and allowed two crucial goals that would have taken Al Hilal to the final on the away goals rule. But Kwon drove home the winner well into second half injury-time to give Al Ahli a famous victory.
Brazilians Rodrigo Lima and Everton Ribeiro gave Al Ahli a two-goal cushion, but Al Hilal squared things up thanks to two Brazilians of their own — Ailton and Carlos Eduardo.
But it was the Korean who had the final say as he strode into the area and bundled home a deflection to give Al Ahli a deserving 3-2 win.
Lima sent the home fans into raptures in the 17th minute when he prodded home an accurate pass from the left from Ahmad Khalil. Signed from Portuguese champions Benfica in the summer, Lima has made a name for himself with the Al Ghusais faithful already. This was the 32-year-old’s 12th goal for the club, injecting some much-needed belief in the Red Knights’ line-up.
Ribeiro then cleverly broke the offside trap in the final minute of the first half to lob over onrushing goalkeeper Abdullah Al Sedairy to make it 2-0.
Losing finalists last year after going down 1-0 on aggregate to Australia’s Western Sydney Wanderers, Al Hilal were experienced, tricky opponents. They have previously lifted the title on two occasions, in 1991 and 2000.
The Saudi side never gave up and they came up with renewed ideas in the second half. With substitute Mohammad Al Shalhoub as playmaker, the visitors slowly started asserting themselves, and four minutes into the second half they gave a taste of things to come as Ahmad Ashoori Dida had to fling himself full length to keep out an Al Shalhoub strike.
But there was no stopping Al Hilal as Ailton drove in a deft touch inside the box by Eduardo to make it 2-1 in the 51st minute.
Al Hilal continued to push deep into home territory and the Al Ahli goal was breached a second time in the 64th minute, when goalkeeper Dida had no answer to Eduardo’s pile-driver from more than 40 yards.
After that, Al Hilal fell back to defending their narrow advantage and the home side chased a third goal that would help them become only the second UAE team after Al Ain to reach the final of this competition.
Lima came close on a couple of occasions in the 80th and 82nd minutes. And, finally, it was Kwon who settled the issue when he buried his volley into the net from well inside the box.