By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Tournament debutants Istiklol continued their surprise run in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday with a 1-0 win that eliminated former finalists Shabab Al Ahli as the Tajikistan club moved to within touching distance of the knockout rounds.
Alisher Dzhalilov's goal deep into stoppage time at the end of the game earned Mubin Ergashev's side the three points that keep them top of Group A in Riyadh and mean victory over AGMK from Uzbekistan on Friday will take them into the last 16.
Istiklol are now guaranteed a top two finish and are level on 10 points with 2019 champions Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia after they bounced back from their loss to the side from Dushanbe with a 3-0 win over AGMK.
Only the winners of each of the 10 groups in the newly expanded Asian Champions League are guaranteed to advance to the next round, where they will be joined by the six runners-up with the best records.
Teams in the west Asian half of the draw are playing their group matches in centralised venues due to the pandemic, with clubs from east Asia due to feature in the competition in June and July.
In Group C in Jeddah, a three-way battle for a place in the next round will go down to the final match day after leaders Esteghlal from Iran were held to a 0-0 draw by Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli.
The pair are level on eight points with Al Duhail of Qatar, who missed the chance to open a gap at the top when they suffered a surprise 2-1 loss to Iraq's Al Shorta.
Kenya's Michael Olunga scored his seventh goal in four games to pull Al Duhail level in the 57th minute after Amjan Attwan had given Al Shorta an early lead, but Mohammed Dawood's 85th minute goal earned already-eliminated Al Shorta the win.
Esteghlal will take on the Iraqis on Friday in the final round of group matches while Al Duhail and Al Ahli go head-to-head with a place in September's knockout rounds at stake.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Shri Navaratnam)