(AFC)- Two times AFC Champions League winners Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia crashed out of the 2016 continental club championship on Tuesday despite notching up a 2-0 win over Iran’s Sepahan.
Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv won Group A after they drew 0-0 with Al Nasr in Tashkent on Tuesday, while the Emiratis take second place in the group due to their win over the 2004 and 2005 champions on Matchday Three.
Both sides will be making their first-ever appearance in the knockout phase of the AFC Champions League.
Al Ittihad were left to rue their poor start to the campaign, when the club from Jeddah picked up just one point from their opening four games and only registered their first win on Matchday Five against Sepahan.
Victor Piturca’s side completed the double over the Iranians – themselves finalists in the AFC Champions League back in 2007 – but there was little satisfaction to be garnered from a disappointing campaign.
“The match was good from both sides and we came here to get the three points,” said Piturca. “We were the better side as we controlled proceedings and we created several scoring chances while we scored two good goals.
“It is a shame that we failed to qualify from the group as we played well in the previous matches. I’m satisfied with the performances of the players but we were not lucky in the end as we couldn’t qualify.”
Al Ittihad took the lead after just 15 minutes when Sanmartean’s free kick from 20 yards out curled around the defensive wall before beating Sepahan goalkeeper Shahab Gordan at his left post.
Five minutes later the Saudis could have gone further in front after Gordan fumbled Basem Al Montashri’s long-range free kick, only for Majed Al Khaibari to hit the keeper with his attempt from close-range.
With 15 minutes remaining, Al Nathiri ensured the three points were claimed by Al Ittihad when he was released behind the Iranian defence before sending the goalkeeper the wrong way with an assured finish.
Sepahan have had struggles of their own in this campaign, picking up a solitary win against Al Nasr on Matchday Two, and the Iranians made little impression throughout the 90 minutes with Abdollah Karami capping a miserable season for the club when he was sent off six minutes from time.
Al Ittihad’s win, however, was too little too late for the former champions, who exit the competition at the group stage for the first time since 2010.
“We had a good performance today but we made some mistakes which cost us the result and we were affected by the absence of some key players,” said Sepahan’s interim coach Abolghasem Zaghinejad. “We were hoping that we could get a positive result but we were not lucky.
“Our opponents had a lot of desire to win the match because it was important for them. We have learned a lot from the competition and hopefully we can play better in our next participation in the AFC Champions League.”