x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Al Jazira snag point in Tehran from Esteghlal in Asian Champions League

Abdelaziz Barrada scored both goals for Al Jazira as the Abu Dhabi club walked away with a 2-2 draw at Esteghlal on Tuesday night, writes John McAuley.

Al Jazira's Felipe Caicedo, centre, fights for the ball against Iran's Esteghlal player Hashem Bekzadeh, right, during their AFC Champions League Group A football match on Tuesday at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran. The match ended in a 2-2 draw. Atta Kenare / AFP / March 18, 2014
Al Jazira's Felipe Caicedo, centre, fights for the ball against Iran's Esteghlal player Hashem Bekzadeh, right, during their AFC Champions League Group A football match on Tuesday at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran. The match ended in a 2-2 draw. Atta Kenare / AFP / March 18, 2014

Esteghlal 2 Al Jazira 2

Esteghlal Najafabadi 17’, Omranzadeh 65’

Al Jazira Barrada 6’, 56’

Man of the match Abdelaziz Barrada (Al Jazira)

Al Jazira seem to have cracked this Asian Champions League lark.

Having spent last season’s continental competition lurching from one disappointment to another, the Abu Dhabi side now lead Group A after three rounds, an unbeaten run stretched by Tuesday night’s draw to three matches.

Hot on the heels of last week’s history-making victory in Saudi Arabia – Jazira became the first UAE club to win there – Walter Zenga’s men travelled to Iran to face an Esteghlal side who in September contested the 2013 tournament’s semi-final.

It mattered little that this year Esteghlal had suffered two defeats; the Azadi Stadium has been an unpleasant outpost for Emirates clubs in the past. Yet Jazira have always enjoyed tussling with the Tehran team, and emerged from their most-recent skirmish with their blemish-free record intact: in seven meetings with Esteghlal, Jazira have yet to be beaten.

Where they triumphed in 2012 en route to a last-16 place, this 2-2 draw may prove just as valuable. Its worth was swift to appreciate, when in the sixth minute, Abdelaziz Barrada, Jazira’s elegant playmaker, latched onto Felipe Caicedo’s pull-back to calmly place his shot into the home goal.

Barrada’s strike continued a trend, as Jazira have burst from the blocks in each of their Group A encounters, scoring within the first 10 minutes in all three matches. However, they were quickly hauled back when, 12 minutes later, Esteghlal’s Mohammed Ghazi rose highest between two Jazira defenders to plant a sublime header low past Ali Kasheif in the visiting goal.

Barrada, though, would restore Jazira’s supremacy shortly after half time. The Moroccan, impressive in his debut season with the club, received the ball on the edge of the Esteghlal area, drifted past a rival and drilled a low shot into the corner.

Buoyed by the lead, Jazira quickly threatened to run away with the match, only to concede on 63 minutes from an Esteghlal corner when Hanif Omranzadeh directed his header past a stationary Kasheif.

A frantic final quarter then played out, with Jazira thankful for a resolute Kasheif. The UAE national team’s No 1 matched his reputation with a succession of fine stops, although he saved the best until last with an injury-time, point-blank block from Boubacar Kebe’s close-range effort.

There was still time for Barrada to strike a post moments before the final whistle and, while Jazira will rue the upright’s intervention, they can content themselves with mission accomplished.

Halfway through the group, they are more than halfway to the knock-out stages. Following last season’s travails, Jazira have finally found their Asian feet.

Forlan finally off the mark while Guangzhou overcome Jeonbuk

Trophy-holders Guangzhou Evergrande seized control of their Asian Champions League group with a 3-1 win over Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on Tuesday, as Uruguay striker Diego Forlan scored his first goal for Cerezo Osaka.

A first-half double from Guangzhou striker Gao Lin and a third from Liao Lisheng, either side of Lee Dong-gook’s solo effort, settled a flowing game and lifted the Chinese and Asian champions three points clear in Group G.

Marcello Lippi’s men are now in familiar territory halfway through the group stage as they bid to become only the second team to successfully defend the AFC title.

Uruguay international Forlan opened his account for Japan’s Cerezo Osaka in their 4-0 win over Thai champions Buriram United, and Melbourne Victory got the first win of their campaign, a 1-0 win over Japan’s Yokohama F Marinos.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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