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Group B: Pakhtakor, Tractor settle for thrilling draw in AFC Champions League opener

Sharjah: A fine display of attacking football saw Pakhtakor and Tractor FC play out a thrilling 3-3 draw at Sharjah Stadium in the opening match of the 2021 AFC Champions League Group B on Wednesday.

After a shy start to the game from both sides, it was Pakhtakor who took the initiative at the quarter-hour mark as Dragan Ceran advanced down the middle and supplied a fine through pass for Erin Derdiok who fired low from inside the box, but Tractor goalkeeper Mohammadreza Akhbari produced a quick save with his feet at the near post.

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The Uzbek side thought they had broken the deadlock with 10 minutes to go when Azizbek Turgunboev whipped a ball into the box from a set-piece and Ceran’s towering header looked destined for the back of the net before Akhbari showed superb athleticism to make a diving save, tipping it behind for a corner.

Tractor came racing out of the blocks after the restart and within seven minutes, they were awarded a penalty after defender Anzur Ismailov handled the ball inside the box. Veteran Ashkan Dejagah stepped up and sent goalkeeper Sanjar Kuvvatov the wrong way, slotting home the equaliser.

Coach Rasoul Khatibi’s men wasted no time to double their tally. Akbar Imani capitalised on a defensive mistake and sent Mohammad Abbaszadeh through on goal and the latter blasted his shot into the roof of the net to make it 2-0 with 56 minutes gone.

Pakhtakor came within a whisker of finding the back of the net after Farrukh Sayfiev beat the goalkeeper with a composed left-footed finish, but as the Uzbeks prepared to celebrate, defender Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh popped up with a goal-line clearance to deny them the goal.

Coach Pieter Huistra’s men got their first goal of the night after Ceran collected Hojimat Erkinov’s pass and rifled a left-footed effort past Akhbari to narrow the deficit in the 69th minute.

Substitute Ibrokhimkhalil Yuldoshev had a chance to equalise after the Tractor goalkeeper spilled his attempt to catch a cross, but the left-back’s half-volleyed attempt from inside the box sailed wide.

Pakhtakor equalised with 15 minutes left on the clock after Sharof Mukhitdinov received Sayfiev’s pass from the right, twisted and turned before unleashing a thunderous left-footed strike that nestled into the Tractor net.

The Uzbeks were not done yet. Substitute Erkinov pounced on a poor defensive clearance and embarked on a solo run beating three defenders before placing the ball past the opposition goalkeeper to make it 3-2.

Just as Pakhtakor thought they had completed their mission, Abbaszadeh broke through on goal, leaving defender Egor Krimets with no option but to bring him down inside the box. Abbaszadeh stepped up to take the resulting penalty and made no mistakes, powering in to make it 3-3 with five minutes to go.

Pakhtakor face Iraq’s Air Force Club on Saturday while Tractor play the home side Sharjah FC in their next game.

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