Tehran: Two-time Asian champions Esteghlal remain rooted to the bottom of Group A despite drawing level twice in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Emirati visitors Al Jazira in their AFC Champions League match at the Azadi Stadium on Tuesday.
Al Jazira midfielder Abdelaziz Barrada (pictured) netted early in each half to twice give the United Arab Emirates side the lead but they were pegged back shortly after on both occasions by headers from first Mohammad Ghazi and then Hanif Omranzadeh.
Although the result gives last year’s semi-finalists Esteghlal their first point of the campaign, defeats by both Al Shabab and Al Rayyan in their opening fixtures leave them with plenty of work to do, while the draw ensures Al Jazira remain undefeated and top of the group.
In a back-and-forth game played at a furious tempo, it took just seven minutes for the first goal to arrive as Al Jazira forward Felipe Caicedo shrugged off Amirhossein Sadeghi and pulled the ball back for Barrada to side-foot home left-footed past Esteghlal captain and custodian Mahdi Rahmati.
But barely 10 minutes had passed before the scores were level as a sublime right wing cross from Khosro Heydari found Ghazi in the penalty area, and the forward thumped a bullet header past Ali Khaseif and into the bottom left-hand corner.
Abdulla Mousa went close to restoring the visitors lead before half-time, but his close range attempt to beat Rahmati at his near post was denied by the alert goalkeeper.
Just 10 minutes after the restart, though, Walter Zenga’s side went back in front as a cut-back from Abdulla Qasem found Barrada on the edge of the area and he ghosted past the Esteghlal backline to bury a shot past Rahmati and into the bottom right-hand corner.
Urged on by their vociferous home supporters, Esteghlal pressed for an equaliser and on 64 minutes a corner from substitute Iman Mobali was met by Omranzadeh rising highest amongst the pack in the middle to power a header into the roof of the net.
Both teams were determined to find a winner and Ecuador international Caicedo had the ball in the back of the net on 75 minutes only to have the goal ruled out for offside, while Hashem Beikzadeh went close for Esteghlal with a curling shot from outside the area that Khaseif did well to push away diving to his left.
With the match into stoppage time, there was still time for golden opportunities for both sides as substitute Boubacar Kebe was denied by an astonishing save by Khaseif with his outstretched feet and then Barrada was denied his hat-trick with a right-footed shot that cannoned off the inside of the post.
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Riyadh: Al Shabab coach Amar Souayah described his team’s match against Esteghlal as a ‘cup final’ after the Saudi club overcame the Iranian side 2-1 with a pair of late goals at the King Fahd International Stadium.
Al Ain: Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic wants his team to stamp their authority on Group C with a win against Al Ittihad on Tuesday when they host the Saudi club in their final opening round game of the AFC Champions League.