Mitchell Duke scored the winner four minutes from time to send Saudi Arabia’s Al Taawoun into the last 16 of the Asian Champions League at the expense of Qatari champions Al Duhail in Doha on Thursday.
The Australian striker, his head swathed in bandages after an earlier knock, found the net with a powerful header from an 86th-minute corner to give his club a 1-0 win that sent them from the bottom of Group C into second place.
Iran’s Persepolis, runners up in 2018, earlier sewed up top spot in the group with a 4-0 win over Sharjah on the back of headed goals from Shojae Khalilzadeh, Issa Alekasir and Vahid Amiri in the first half and a late fourth from Mehdi Abdi Qara.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr and Qatar’s Al Sadd were already assured of passage into the knockout stages and both lost their final Group D matches on Wednesday.
Al Nassr topped the group despite their 1-0 loss to 2003 champions Al Ain, while twice champions Al Sadd went down 2-1 to Iran’s Sepahan at their home Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.
Al Sadd, the only Qatari side left in the competition, will play Persepolis in the last 16 on Sunday at an empty Education City Stadium.
Al Nassr will take on Al Taawoun in their first knockout match earlier on Sunday at the same arena, a new venue built for the 2022 World Cup.
Saudi Arabia have three teams in the last 16 despite Asian champions Al Hilal having been kicked out of the competition on Wednesday when they were only able to muster 11 players for their final group match after a rash of COVID-19 cases.
Emirati club Al Wahda were also kicked out before the resumption of the Western half of the Asian Champions League in the Doha hub after an outbreak of COVID-19 in their squad.
The resumption of the East Asian half of the competition in Malaysia has been delayed from October to mid-November with the final planned for Doha on Dec. 19.