Dubai: Newly-crowned Iranian champions Esteghlal took firm control of their AFC Champions League Round of 16 match against Al Shabab Al Arabi as they scored four second-half goals for a 4-2 away victory over the United Arab Emirates club in the first leg on Wednesday.
Luiz Henrique put the home side in front at the Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium right on the stroke of half time but the visitors stormed back after the break with goals by Jlloyd Samuel, Javad Nekounam and Farhad Majidi putting them 3-1 up.
Edgar (Edgar Bruno da Silva) pulled a goal back for the hosts with five minutes left but a brilliant finish by Khosro Heidari a minute from time put the Iranian side firmly in the driver’s seat ahead of the return match in Tehran next week.
“We achieved a big victory against a strong team in an important match,” said Esteghlal coach Amir Ghalenoei.
“Al Shabab are an organised side and they performed well in the first half as they stopped us from scoring.
“However, things changed in the second period as we had a good performance and we managed to score four goals and get an important win. However, the match was only a part of the encounter and there is still another match in Iran which will be decisive.”
Having had lost on both of their previous appearances in the Round of 16 in 2010 and 2012, Esteghlal began the match in determined mood and they fashioned the first real opportunity after five minutes when Ali Hamoudi laid off the ball for Majidi whose first time effort smacked into the chest of Esam Dhahi.
Siavash Akbarpour squandered a glorious opportunity to give the visitors the lead when he was found unmarked in the six-yard box by a deep cross but sent his header straight at goalkeeper Salem Abdulla while at the other end, Al Dhahi’s near-post header hit the face of defender Mojtaba Jabbari on the goalline.
After a bright opening, the match became bogged down in midfield for much of the first half and both sides looked set to return to the dressing room with the match still scoreless until Luiz Henrique struck for the hosts with a fine individual effort in stoppage time at the end of the first half.
The Brazilian won possession in the Estehglal half and rolled past the challenge of Nekounam before he accelerated towards the box and fired a right-footed shot that went past the despairing dive of Mahdi Rahmati into the bottom corner of the net.
It was the final kick of the first half and while it could have easily deflated the visitors, they came out after the half-time interval clearly focussed on finding their way back into the game.
And they were rewarded when they equalised just 10 minutes after the restart. A low shot by Heidari from outside the box went through a crowd of players but was stopped by Abdulla at full stretch. However, the Al Shabab goalkeeper could only parry the ball towards Samuel, who easily slotted the ball into the back of the net.
Abdulla did well to stop Majidi when he attempted to flick the ball past the him shortly afterwards but the Al Shabab goalkeeper could do little to keep out Nekounam when he met a cross from the right with a firm header into the top right corner of the net in the 73rd minute to make it 2-1.
Esteghlal captain Majidi then got on the scoresheet in the 81st minute as he guided the ball into the net with his head after a wayward shot by Mojtaba Jabari that seemed to be headed well wide.
Edgar gave the home side some hope when he scored his fourth goal of the tournament to cut the deficit to one goal with five minutes remaining but the final word in the match came from Heidari, who brought down a cross from the left with his right foot before firing a smart left-footed volley into the top corner of the net to give his side a 4-2 advantage to take back to the Azadi Stadium.
“The match was strong and quick from the two teams and it was interesting. We knew that we are playing against a strong team and we successfully stopped them in the first half when we took the lead,” said Al Shabab Al Arabi coach Marcos Paqueta.
“We failed to maintain our pressure in the second period and we conceded goals from defensive mistakes. I’m proud of my players regardless of the result and hopefully we can get a better result next week.”