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Depleted Al Hilal limp into Round of 16 after goalless draw

Al Hilal Saudi FC managed to hold Shahr Khodro FC to a goalless draw at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah and advanced to the Round of 16 of the AFC Champions League 2020 from Group B on Sunday.

The ACL defending champions had asked the Asian Football Confederation to postpone Sunday's fixture against Shahr Khodro after the count of players who tested positive for coronavirus in their camp climbed to 15 on the eve of the game.

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Bafetimbi Gomis and Sebastian Giovinco were among the latest to go into the two-week quarantine under the tournament's COVID-19 protocol leaving the Saudi champions with only one outfield player -- 19-year-old forward Turki Al-Mutairi -- to be listed among the substitutes for the game.

Razvan Lucescu's side only needed a point against the already-eliminated Iranian outfit to reach the Round of 16 of the continental competition. Mansour Al Bishi and Farshad Faraji went close to scoring for Al Hilal and Shahr Khodro respectively before Hatan Bahebri was denied the opportunity to clinch the game for the Saudis by goalkeeper Mohammad Javad Kia.

While the depleted Al Hilal huffed and puffed to the knockout stages, Shahr Khodro recorded their first-ever point in the Asian Champions League.

Meanwhile, UAE's Shabab Al Ahli Club and Uzbek champions Pakhtakor Tashkent also played out a goalless stalemate in the other match of Group B.

Pakhtakor were by far the better side in the first 45 minutes enjoying 70% possession and registering nine attempts compared to Shabab Al Ahli's two. Sardor Sobirkhodjaev came the closest only to be denied by a quick save from Emirati keeper Majed Naser.

Despite also dominating the second period, Pakhtakor failed to find a way and the two sides settled for a point apiece. Pakhtakor have seven points going into their final group tie against Shahr Khodro while Shabab Al Ahli, a point behind the Uzbeks, will have to beat Al Hilal and hope Pakhtakor drop points, to qualify.

Iraq's Al Shorta SC and IR Iran's Esteghlal SC played a 1-1 draw in a cross-border Group A clash at the Khalifa International Stadium meaning the final Round of 16 spot from the pool is still up for grabs heading into the final matchday of the group phase.

Mazin Fayyadh, who had secured the Iraqi side's first-ever ACL victory against group favourites Al Ahli Saudi SC, was once again on target, this time heading in the opener from an Ali Faez Atiyah corner kick in the 26th minute. Mazin could have doubled his side's lead seven minutes later but dragged his shot.

Esteghlal stepped on the gas after the restart and Arsalan Motahari equalised on the rebound after Farshid Esmaeili's initial effort was saved by Ahmed Basil Fadhil in the 68th minute. Al Ahli, already guaranteed a place in the knockouts, top the group with six points followed by Al Shorta with five and Esteghlal with two.

Esteghlal will face Al Ahli in the final match of Group A on Wednesday. The Iranians must win against the Saudi giants to progress or it will be Al Shorta, who finished bottom of the group in both of their previous ACL appearances back in 2004 and 2005, that will make it to the knockouts for the first time in history.