DOHA: Syrian star Omar Kharbin scored a hat-trick as Saudi giants Al Hilal took a giant step towards the finals of the AFC Champions League with a 4-0 thrashing of Iran’s Persepolis in their semifinals, first-leg clash on Tuesday.
Kharbin led the way with his treble, while veteran Yasir al-Shahrani was also on target as Al Hilal toyed with their Iranian rivals to put themselves in contention for their third continental title, after winning the event in 1991 and 2000.
Unbeaten so far in the tournament, Al Hilal were far superior to their rivals at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, establishing control right from the outset and tightening the noose as the minutes ticked by.
Brazilian Carlos Eduardo could have put Al Hilal, the most successful side in Saudi history, ahead in the eighth minute but Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand brought out a fine save to thwart the effort.
Nicolas Milesi also went close a few minutes later, but Al Hilal finally managed to register on the scoreboard with Kharbin heading home in the 31st minute after receiving a fine cross from Mohamed al-Burayk.
Al-Shahrani then doubled the advantage with a cracking low shot into the bottom right corner of the net from 18 yards after Salem al-Dawsari had done most of the hard work.
Al Hilal lost Abdullah Otayf early in the second half for picking up two yellow cards in quick succession, but that didn’t stop them from maintaining their stranglehold on the game.
The match was all but over in the 54th minute when Kharbin eased behind the backline to finish off a low al-Dawasari cross from the right.
Ahmad Nourollahi had a golden chance to pull one back for Persepolis but his effort was saved by Al Hilal goalkeeper Abdullah al-Myaoof.
But there was no end to the Persepolis misery as Kharbin made light of their defence to score from a low 20-yard drive past Beiranvand to complete the rout.
The two sides will meet on October 17 in the second leg, but the Saudis will be tempted to celebrate their spot in the final ahead of the official formalities.