Abu Dhabi: Al Jazira squandered a hatful of sitters against Esteghlal of Iran late on Wednesday to lose the sole leadership of Group A in the AFC Champions League after losing 1-0.
It was the first time in eight previous games that Esteghlal had beaten Al Jazira, who had won five and drawn two of their previous clashes with the Iranian side before Wednesday.
Al Jazira dominated the encounter and it was in fact the mistakes committed by the strikers that deprived the team from winning the match.
Ali Mabkhoot, his young colleague Ahmad Rabie amd Felipe Caicedo missed chances galore either due to haste, lack of concentration or because of the outstanding form of Mahdi Rahmati, the Iranian goalkeeper, who saved many times from dangerous one-against-one situations.
Meanwhile, Moroccan playmaker Abdul Aziz Barrada, who scored his team’s two goals in Tehran a fortnight ago, was a shadow of himself, which proves that he did not fully recover from the injury he sustained last week against Al Nasr in the Arabian Gulf League.
“We lost the match because we failed to score from the many chances we created,” Walter Zenga, the head coach of Al Jazira, said after the match. “But we still have a good chance to reach the second round of the competition.”
Two teams from each group will reach the second round.
Al Shabab from Saudi Arabia lead the group with nine points from four matches after beating Al Rayyan from Qatar 2-0 on the same night, followed by Al Jazira with seven points, Esteghlal with four and Al Rayyan with three.
Zenga also hit out at Korean referee Dong Jin, who showed Jlloyd Samuel, the defender of Etseghlal, a yellow card for a deliberate dangerous tackle against Abdullah Mousa, the left-back of Al Jazira, who was taken off on a stretcher.
The Italian said: “The referee should have sent the player off because it was a dangerous play. We lost one of our most important defensive assets and we conceded the goal only minutes after he was replaced.”
Zenga also praised his players, however, saying: “They did everything but score. We will work on the psychological side in the next few days to overcome the effects of this defeat because still we have a good chance to reach the second round and we will work hard to win the next match and that might be enough for us to promote.”
Al Jazira will play against Al Rayyan in Doha on April 16 before ending their campaign against Al Shabab at home a week later.
Results from the Asian Champions League on Wednesday:
Al Jazira (UAE) 0 Esteghlal (IRN) 1
Al Rayyan (Qat) 0 Al Shabab (KSA) 2
Al Ittihad (KSA) 3 Lekhwiya (QAT) 1
Buriram United (THA) 2 Cerezo Osaka (JPN) 2
Shandong Luneng (CHN) 2 Pohang Steelers (KOR) 4
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (KOR) 1 Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) 0
Yokohama F.Marinos (JPN) 3 Melbourne Victory (AUS) 2