Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

RIYADH: Aleksandar Mitrovic’s two goals sent Al-Hilal on their way to a 3-1 win over Al-Raed on Sunday, restoring the side’s seven-point lead at the top of the Roshn Saudi League above local rivals Al-Nassr.

The win also extended Al-Hilal’s winning streak to an amazing 21 games in all competitions.

Less than 24 hours after Cristiano Ronaldo gave Al-Nassr the lead against Al-Fateh for his 21st league goal of the season, Mitrovic, second in the goalscoring standings, scored his 18th after just two minutes. It signaled the start of a dominant performance from the Riyadh giants.

The Serbian striker was on hand at the near post as Salem Al-Dawsari galloped down the left, skipping past defenders, only for the ball to spill to Mitrovic to hook from close range. It was the first official goal to be scored at the newly built Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, the stadium that is now Al-Hilal’s new home.

Al-Dawsari certainly looked comfortable already in these state-of-the-art surroundings and continued to cause all kinds of problems down that side with his direct running and tricky football. He tried to set up Mitrovic more than once to no success but the next clear chance came after 19 minutes when the Asian Player of the Year found Malcom in the middle but the Brazilian fired just over the bar.

The second goal was not far away. After 27 minutes, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was brought down in the area by Mohammed Al-Dossary and Mitrovic stepped up to find the back of the net for the 19th time this season.

There seemed to be little chance of the visitors, who had won their last two league games, taking anything back to Buraidah as they barely threatened to get on the scoresheet. Any possibility was officially extinguished seven minutes after the restart. Ruben Neves floated over a free-kick from the right for Kalidou Koulibaly to head into the bottom corner for the Senegalese defender’s second goal since arriving from Chelsea last summer.

The points were then all but sealed, leading to a drop in intensity. Al-Raed, who stay in 14th, got their consolation in added time. Julio Tavares broke free and then, as he arrived in the area, slipped a pass to his right for Amir Sayoud to lift over goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.

It did not dampen the spirits of the Al-Hilal fans. The team are next in action on Thursday when they can book a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League if they avoid a two-goal defeat at home to Sepahan of Iran.

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