Two goals from Abderrazak Hamdallah gave Al-Ittihad a 2-1 win at AGMK of Uzbekistan on Monday, ensuring their passage to the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League.
Defeat in this continental competition ended up costing Nuno Santo his job as head coach a month ago, not long after the Portuguese boss had delivered the Tigers’ first Saudi league title in 14 years.
The same tournament has now given Marcelo Gallardo his first win as coach of the Jeddah giants after the Argentine tactician was appointed earlier this month.
It was not a classic performance by the visitors on what was a chilly evening in Uzbekistan but that was not a problem for their Moroccan marksman, who also scored in Friday’s 1-1 draw with Al-Ettifaq.
Two goals in the space of four first-half minutes were enough for the two-time continental titleholders to move onto 12 points from five games in Group C.
On the half hour, there seemed to be little danger when Fabinho had the ball around the center circle, but the former Liverpool midfielder then sent a long ball over the top of the Central Asian defense into the path of Hamdallah. He muscled Dilshod Akhmadaliev off the ball on the edge of the area and then fired home a fierce left-footed rocket that flew through the legs of the goalkeeper to give Al-Ittihad a valuable lead.
Four minutes later and the lead was doubled. Muhannad Al-Shantaqi had the ball on the right side of the area and his pass across the box was blocked, but there was Hamdallah to fire home his second. It was another poacher’s goal from the man who has won the golden boot in the 2020 AFC Champions League and twice in the SPL.
Soon after, Benzema drew a good save from Valijhon Rakhimov with a low shot from the right side of the area, but it was far from one-way traffic.
On the stroke of halftime, Khurshid Giyosov curled a ball just wide of Al-Ittihad’s left-hand post to remind the visitors there was still work to do in the second half.
Benzema did his utmost to extend the lead but his attempts either went wide or were blocked. Hamdallah also was not far away from his hat trick.
AGMK, making just their third appearance on this continental stage this season, tried hard to get back into the game but struggled to create any clear-cut chances. Then, with 12 minutes remaining, the deficit was halved.
On the left side of the area, Sanzhar Tursunov’s low drive across the goalkeeper ended up at the feet of Martin Boakye and the Italian striker could not miss from close range.
The goal meant nerves and tension for the fans that had made the journey to Central Asia and for those watching back in Jeddah.
AGMK, who had lost all four group games previously, where roared forward by their fans but they were unable to get back on level terms. In the end, Al-Ittihad took the points and a place in the knockout stage.