Omar Khribin scored a hat-trick as Al Hilal took firm control of their Asian Champions League semi-final tie with a 4-0 demolition of Persepolis at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday.
Khribin, a Syria international who was previously on loan to the Saudi Arabian club from Arabian Gulf League side Al Dhafra before making his transfer permanent, scored the first goal of the evening. He then added two more to his name, even as Hilal were reduced to 10 men in the 49th minute.
Yasir Al Shahrani scored the other goal of the match as Hilal provided a treat to more than 12,000 Saudi fans seated inside the Abu Dhabi stadium.
Hilal now take their decisive lead into the second leg, scheduled to be held on October 17 at Sultan Qaboos Stadium in Muscat, Oman. Both legs of this tie are being played at neutral venues because of the travel bans enforced by the two countries.
Hilal and Persepolis met in the group stage twice with the games finishing goalless and 1-1, respectively. But having emerged on top of the group and having been undefeated in their 2017 continental campaign, Hilal were favourites to win on Tuesday night.
They did not disappoint.
Ramon Diaz’s men were constantly on the move for a best part of the game. Alireza Beiranvand, the Persepolis goalkeeper, did well to block a close-range shot from Brazilian Carlos Eduardo and deny Hilal from taking an early lead.
But it seemed only to delay the inevitable when, in the 31st minute, Mohammed Al Burayk provided a cross from the right flank for Khribin to rise above the Persepolis defence and score a header from the far post.
Al Shahrani then doubled the lead nine minutes later with a low right-footed shot from outside the box following an assist from Salem Al Dawsari.
The Iranian side fought valiantly after the break and their hopes were raised four minutes into the second half when Hilal were reduced to 10 men on the pitch.
Abdullah Ateef, the Hilal defender, was sent off after he received a second yellow for bringing down Ali Mosleh with a nasty tackle.
However, Hilal refused to be held back by the numerical disadvantage, eventually adding a third goal through Khribin.
The Syrian forward sent a left-footed shot to the bottom left corner in the 54th minute, and then rounded off by scoring from a counterattack with a minute left on the clock.
Hilal have twice been Champions League semi-finalists – in 2010 and 2015 – and now they look almost certain of booking their place in the final.
However, man-of-the-match Khribin said his side were not taking anything for granted.
“We go into the next leg with a good lead, but that doesn’t guarantee our place in the final,” he said. “Having said that, losing from this position is also unthinkable. It would be a catastrophe if it happens.
“But in football, anything is possible.”
When asked if his time at Dhafra came in handy against Persepolis on Tuesday night, Khribin said it helped that he knew the pitch well.
“I’m familiar with the surroundings and having played at this venue felt comfortable,” he said, before adding their success was a result of excellent teamwork.
“I should credit my teammates for my performance. I couldn’t have scored that many goals without their support. I am also glad I was able to score all those goals, which are valuable to take forward for the return leg,” he added.
Shanghai SIPG of China host Japanese side Urawa Reds in the other second semi-final on Wednesday.