RIYADH — In a commanding display of prowess, Al Hilal sealed their AFC Champions League 2023/24 Group D campaign with a fifth straight victory, securing a 2-1 triumph against Nassaji Mazandaran at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium on Monday.
The win propelled Al Hilal to an impressive 16 points, solidifying their position as the undisputed leaders of Group D. Meanwhile, Nassaji, representing Iran, can take pride in their debut appearance, accumulating a commendable six points in the competition.
Already confirmed as Group D winners following their victory over Navbahor in the previous week, coach Jorge Jesus made calculated choices, opting to rest Ruben Neves and fielding Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic from the bench.
Al Hilal wasted no time in establishing their dominance, with Mohammed Al Burayk delivering a pivotal cross to Michael in the 4th minute. Michael skillfully found the net from a tight angle, securing the goal despite Vahid Mohammadzadeh's clearance coming after the ball had crossed the line.
Nassaji struggled to break free from their own half, and Al Hilal had an opportunity to double their lead in the 28th minute. Abdullah Al Hamddan's shot, however, was deflected onto his own defender by Hossein Khatir, preventing the ball from rolling into an empty net.
In the 31st minute, Al Hilal was awarded a penalty after referee Mohanad Qasim initially deemed Mohammad Hosseini's challenge on Sale Al Shehri a foul but reversed his decision following a VAR check.
Although relatively untested in the first half, Yassine Bounou, the goalkeeper, displayed skill in the 45th minute, expertly deflecting Mahmoud Ghaedrahmati's header after a near-post free-kick from Hossein Zamehran. However, Bounou did not return after halftime due to a muscle problem, with Habib Al Watyan taking his place.
Despite the change in goal, Al Hilal maintained control, extending their lead in the 54th minute when Al Hamddan's flick over Nassaji's defense was expertly finished by Salem Al Dawsari.
Mitrovic and Milinkovic-Savic entered the game in the 60th minute, but it was Nassaji who found the net next. Ghaedrahmati executed an exceptional volley in the 77th minute after Kalidou Koulibaly's headed clearance fell kindly into his path, although it served as a mere consolation in the face of Al Hilal's commanding performance.