Iyad Mando proved the hero for Al Karama as the Syrians qualified for the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League thanks to a 2-0 victory over Neftchi in their final Group C match at Khaled Ibn Al Waleed Stadium on Wednesday.
Last year’s runners-up, for whom only a win would do to qualify for the knockout stage, took the lead on 12 minutes through the midfielder before he added a second five minutes after the break to help the home side top the group by a single point from their Uzbek opponents and make the last eight.
Al Karama had the game’s first real chance after only nine minutes when Firas Ismael got on the end of an inswinging cross but could only send his header wide.
However, three minutes later the home fans were celebrating the opening goal as Fahd Aodi delivered a free-kick into the area and Mando rose to power a header into the back of the Neftchi net.
The tempo of the game understandably slowed after the breakthrough and Al Karama were forced to wait until the 41st minute for their next decent opportunity as Jihad Al Hussien beat two defenders but shot wide when well placed.
Neftchi goalkeeper Gayratjon Hasanov then nearly gifted the home side a second on the stroke of half-time when his attempted clearance went straight to Al Hussien and the midfielder fed Senghor Koupouleni but Hasanov recovered sufficently to deny the Senegalese striker.
Al Karama continued to miss chances at the start of the second half as Aatef Jenniat drove into the area but stumbled when he looked well placed to score before Hasanov denied Koupouleni from close range after 49 minutes.
However, Al Karama doubled their lead just sixty seconds later when Mando grabbed his second of the night with a powerful right-foot drive, although Hasanov could maybe have done better to keep out the effort.
Al Karama should have killed off the game in the 52nd minute when Koupouleni’s neat pass found Al Hussien but the 25-year-old sent his effort wide.
Despite dominating proceedings, Al Karama could not add to their tally and Neftchi came close to claiming a consolation goal on the final whistle but Akmal Holmatov’s free kick just went over the bar.