Omar Kharbin sends Al Hilal into final of Asian Champions League
Omar Kharbin settled any hint of nerves and removed all doubt as Al Hilal booked their place in the final of the Asian Champions League on Tuesday evening as a 2-2 draw with Persepolis confirmed the Saudi side's place in the continental showcase.
Kharbin struck twice to cancel out a brace from Godwin Mensha for the club from Tehran, having netted a hat trick in the first leg to set up the two-time Asian champions for a relatively straightforward evening in Muscat.
A 4-0 win in the home leg three weeks ago left the return looking like a formality for Al Hilal and Kharbin's first from the penalty spot to cancel out Mensha's header all but sealed their place in the final.
And while Mensha scored a second, it was another goal from the Syria striker that ensured Al Hilal go into their meeting with Shanghai SIPG of China or Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds next month with their unbeaten record in this year's competition intact.
Persepolis' task was monumental after their first-leg capitulation, but Mensha made the almost impossible seem plausible when he put the Iranians on top as he nodded home from eight yards out.
The goal, which came in the 16th minute, owed much to the determination of Ali Alipour, who doggedly fought Mohammed Al Burayk for possession on the right edge of the area to win the ball and clip a cross into the danger area with the outside of his boot.
Mensha made the most of the opening, rising to steer his header home and give Persepolis the start they needed.
Five minutes later the Nigerian striker could have doubled the lead and caused further concern for Al Hilal only to send what was arguably an easier header wide of the target.
Persepolis, who welcomed back veteran central defender Seyed Jalal Hosseini after suspension ruled him out of the first leg, looked assured and determined, but their good work was undone just before the half hour mark.
Referee Ahmed Al Kaf deemed Mohammad Ansari's foul on Salman Al Faraj was inside the penalty area -- replays showed the incident happened just outside -- and Kharbin scored his fourth goal across both legs with a "Panenka" penalty that left goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand scrambling in vain.
Kharbin's assured effort guaranteed not only that the game could now not go into extra-time, but that Persepolis would need to score another five to advance to their first-ever Asian Champions League.
While Alipour offered a threat with his pace down the right and Mensha looked increasingly menacing, the absence of Mehdi Taremi through suspension robbed Persepolis of a player capable of causing panic in the Al Hilal defence.
Mensha restored Persepolis' lead on the night just after the hour mark when he slotted the ball into the corner after bulldozing his way into the penalty area.
Kharbin though, was not to be outshone as he turned to slam home Salem Al Dawsari's low ball from the right to level the scores on the night and underline both his class and the gulf between the teams as Al Hilal marched into the final.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch