Eduardo hat trick fires Hilal into semis

Al-Hilal’s goalkeeper Abdullah Muaiouf (C) vies for the ball with Al-Ain’s players during their AFC Asian Champions League Group C football match at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh Monday. — AFP

RIYADH — Carlos Eduardo struck a fine hat trick as Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal stormed into the semifinals of the Asian Champions League with a 3-0 rout of UAE’s Al-Ain Monday.

Victory at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh gave the reigning Saudi champion and continental runner-up in 2014 a 3-0 aggregate win following its goalless draw in the first leg last month.

The Brazilian gave Al-Hilal a 2-0 cushion within a span of five minutes toward the end of the first half and then completed his hat trick in the second period to round off an excellent evening for the Saudi giant.

He first found the net with a header from an assist by Uruguayan Nicolas Milesi in the 42nd minute following a freekick much to the joy of the home crowd.

The duo combined again for Al-Hilal’s second goal, Carlos Eduardo chesting down a long pass from Milesi and volleying past Al-Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa.

Al-Ain, the 2003 winner, was boosted by the return of its inspirational midfielder Omar Abdulrahman after he missed the UAE’s World Cup qualifiers against Iraq and Saudi Arabia because of an ankle injury.

But Omar and his brother Mohamed couldn’t make much of an impression as Al-Hilal controlled the game nicely and came up with several scoring opportunities.

Most of the chances fell to Carlos Eduardo with Syrian World Cup star Omar Kharbin also going close on a couple of occasions.

The Brazilian completed his treble in the 74th minute with a right-footed shot from the center of the box following a through pass from Salem Al-Dawsari.

Al-Hilal will be now hoping to win the tournament for the first time since its rebranding in 2003. It won its precursor, the Asian Cup, twice in 1991 and 2000.

It came close in 2014 when it lost the final 1-0 on aggregate against Western Sydney Wanderers.

But so far it is unbeaten in this year’s tournament, raising hopes it could go all the way and claim the title. — AFP