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Al Wahda edge Al Zawraa to seal AFC Champions group stage berth

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Abu Dhabi:  Al Wahda FSCC booked their place in the 2021 AFC Champions League group stage after they came from a goal down to defeat Iraq’s Al Zawraa SC 2-1 in the playoff at Al Nahyan Stadium on Wednesday.

With the win, Al Wahda book their place in Group E, joining Islamic Republic of Iran’s Persepolis FC, Qatar’s Al Rayyan SC and FC Goa of India.

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The hosts came racing out of the blocks and nearly took the lead inside the first four minutes after Ismaeil Matar sent a cross from a free-kick into Al Zawraa’s penalty box which was attacked by Omar Khrbin’s towering header but the 2017 AFC Player of The Year saw his effort saved by the Iraqi goalkeeper.

Al Wahda dominated possession throughout the first half but were unable to find a way through the Iraqi defence as Al Zawraa sat deep and tried to hit on the counter for most of the first half.

Al Wahda had their best chance to break the deadlock just before the half-hour mark as Khrbin applied pressure on his fellow Syrian Zaher Al Midani and was able to snatch the ball deep inside the opposition half, before dribbling past El Hassen Houeibib and squared for Matar who aimed towards the top corner from inside the box, but Al Zawraa goalkeeper Jalal Hassan made a flying save to keep the score level.

Mohannad Abdulraheem thought he had opened the scoring in the 35th minute after latching on to Mahdi Kamil’s through ball and finishing past Mohammed Al Shamsi, but the flag had already gone up ruling the Al Zawraa forward offside.

A scoreless first half gave way to a second goal full of goals as the two sides moved into second gear.

It was Al Zawraa who started the second period brightly and within one minute of the restart they had taken the league as veteran Alaa Abdulzahra beat his marker and headed home from Hussein Al Saedi’s curled cross to put the visitors in the lead.

Al Wahda regrouped and looked to get back into the game. Coach Henk ten Cate’s men got their equaliser just after the hour mark as defender Fares Juma sent a chipped pass behind the Iraqi defence for Khrbin who composedly rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home the leveler.

The Abu Dhabi-based side completed their comeback 12 minutes from time after Matar sent a cross into the box from another set-piece and the ensuing chaos inside the box allowed Slovenian forward Tim Matavz to get hold of the ball and lay it down for winger Ibrahim Khalil who rifled into the back of the net from the edge of the box for the home side’s winner.

Abdulzahra came within a whisker of restoring parity after he headed Durgham Ismail’s corner into the side netting at the near post six minutes from time but his missed effort meant it was Al Wahda who walked away with the win as Al Zawraa departed at the playoff round.

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