Al Hilal striker Ailton grabbed a late equaliser to deny Al Ahli a surprise first-leg advantage in their AFC Champions League semi-final on Tuesday.
The visitors took a 57th-minute lead through Rodrigo Lima and survived a bizarre penalty-award to come within eight minutes of taking a narrow lead back to Dubai for the return game on October 20.
But the Saudi hosts, last year’s beaten finalists, were not to be
denied and Ailton powered home a bullet header to salvage a draw for Georgios Donis’ men.
Ailton was a menace throughout for the Al Ahli defence and only a crude block from Habib Al Fardan, not penalised by referee Valentin Kovalenko, prevented the Brazilian from weaving his way through early on.
Al Ahli’s Ahmed Khalil threatened at the other end four minutes before half-time with a fizzing drive which flashed inches wide of the left-hand upright.
Carlo Eduardo provided a rare moment of skill in an opening 45 minutes high on energy but low on quality with an extravagant overhead-kick on the stroke of half-time but the ball drifted over Al Ahli goalkeeper Ahmed Mahmoud’s crossbar.
Mahmoud’s counterpart Khalid Sharahili was doing his best to hand the visitors the advantage having nearly squandered possession in front of goal for the second time in the 48th minute but Ismail Al Hammadi was unable to capitalise.
He was powerless to prevent Al Ahli from taking the lead nine minutes later, however, as Everton Ribeiro’s right-wing free-kick was nodded home by Lima.
Al Hilal looked comfortable until a moment of madness from Salmin Khamis almost gifted the home side an equaliser.
Khamis played the ball off Ailton in the penalty area and gambled that it had gone out of play for a goal-kick before picking it up. The assistant referee instantly raised his flag and the penalty was given.
Carlos Eduardo took the spot-kick but saw his effort strike the left post and bounce to safety.
Yasir Al Shahrani threatened again for Al Hilal before the equaliser finally came with eight minutes to go, Ailton nodding home a right-wing corner.
Al Ahli could have pinched it late on but Sharahili redeemed himself for his earlier antics by making a superb save with his legs to deny Lima.