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Al-Ittihad Suffer Shock Loss In Iraq On Karim Benzema's AFC Champions League Debut


Karim Benzema’s Al Ittihad suffered their first defeat in this season’s Asian Champions League when they were beaten 2-0 by Air Force Club in Iraq on Monday to pile the pressure on manager Nuno Espirito Santo.

The current Saudi Arabian champions, struggling in the Saudi Pro League, went into the match in Erbil boasting a 100 percent record in Group C after defeating Air Force Club 1-0 in Jeddah last month.

However, goals at the Franso Hariri Stadium from Ali Jasim and Mohannad Abdulraheem pulled the hosts to within two points of the group leaders after four matches.

Back-to-back Asian champions in 2004 and 2005, Ittihad fell behind to the dominant home side one minute before half-time, when Jasim fired home Abdulraheem’s cut-back.

Jasim had earlier hit the base of the post with a shot, while he also had a volley tipped over the Ittihad crossbar by Saudi goalkeeper Abdullah Al Maayouf.

Things went from bad to worse for Ittihad not long into the second half, with Abdulraheem sending in a close-range volley from Ibrahim Bayesh’s low cross.

Although on form in Asia, Ittihad have been out of sorts in the Saudi Pro League. They have not won in five matches to slip to sixth after 12 rounds, with speculation manager Nuno could be on his way out of the club.

Last season, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur manager guided Ittihad to a first Saudi league title in 14 years.

In Group D, four-time winners Al Hilal maintained their unbeaten record with a 2-0 win against Mumbai City in India and advanced to the knockout stages.

Winger Michael opened the scoring just after the hour at the DY Patil Stadium before Aleksandar Mitrovic doubled the visitors’ advantage in the 85th minute.

Mumbai City, who lost the corresponding fixture last month 6-0, had defender Mehtab Singh sent off nine minutes into the second half for a second bookable offence

Hilal, runners-up in the 2022 edition, sit top, level on points with Uzbekistan’s Navbahor, who ran out 3-1 winners away to Iranian debutants Nassaji Mazandaran.

UAE club Sharjah were denied back-to-back Group B victories against Uzbekistan’s Nasaf when the hosts cancelled out Moussa Marega’s early strike via a Mateus goal nine minutes from time to earn a 1-1 draw.

Jambul Jigauri missed a penalty on eight minutes for the home side in Qarshi, while Sharjah goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani and Nasaf defender Alibek Davronov were sent off late on.

Nevertheless, Sharjah lead the standings on eight points, with Nasaf still second.

The group stage, which this year returned to a home-and-away format for the first time since early 2020, runs until mid-December, with the 10 pool winners and the six best second-placed teams advancing to the knockout rounds starting in February.

The final takes place, across two legs, in May.

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