Abu Dhabi: Al Jazira maintained their sole leadership of Group A in the AFC Champions League despite drawing 2-2 with Esteghlal of Iran away ran late on Tuesday night.
The result increased their tally to seven points from three matches, one more than Al Shabab from Saudi Arabia, who defeated Qatari club Al Rayyan 4-3.
The result also proved the superiority of Al Jazira over Esteghlal. The two teams have met seven times in the continental competition and Al Jazira have never lost a single match, winning twice and drawing five times.
On April 3, 2012, Al Jazira became the first UAE club to win an official match in Iran after beating Esteghlal 2-1 in the same competition.
On Tuesday, Al Jazira took the lead twice following an outstanding performance from their Moroccan midfielder Abdul Aziz Barrada, who netted a double.
He struck in the sixth minute following a pass from Felipe Caicedo and in the 56th after an assist from Abdullah Qasim.
Barrada came close to scoring a hat-trick and stunning the thousands of Iranian fans who attended the match at Azadi stadium in the third minute of injury time, but his shot hit the bar.
However, Al Jazira’s defensive mistakes helped the home team score twice with powerful headers from Ghazi Najafabadi in the 16th minute and Hanif Zadeh in the 64th.
“It is good to end the first round of the qualifiers leading the group, ” Ali Khaseef, the Al Jazira goalkeeper and captain, said after the match. “We deserved to win but we made some silly defensive mistakes in marking that resulted in two goals, but the result is positive, bearing in mind that Esteghlal were determined to win after losing their first two matches. We have a good chance to go further in the competition this year judging by the determination and performances of our team and by the fact that we will play two of the three matches in the second round at home.”
Al Jaizra will face Esteghlal on April 2 and then travel to Qatar to face Al Rayyan on April 16, before ending their campaign at home against Al Shabab on April 23. Winning two matches of the remaining three would secure their progress to the next round.