Al Jazira finally got their act together with a 2-1 win over Tractor Sazi - but it proved too little too late for the Pro League side, writes Amith Passela.
Asian Champions League: Al Jazira bow out despite victory
Al Jazira 2 Tractor Sazi 1
Al Jazira Oliveira 7', Khater 90'+2
ABU DHABI // Al Jazira finally got their act together in the Asian Champions League. Their 2-0 victory over Tractor Sazi on Wednesday night ended the Iran side's hopes of reaching the knockout phase of the tournament, but the Pro League side also find themselves out of contention for the final 16.
They bow out on their head-to-head result with Al Jaish of Qatar, who thrashed Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia 3-0 to take their tally to eight points, three ahead of Jazira, two back of Shabab.
Jazira play Shabab in the final Group A match and even a win could take them only to eight points.
Ricardo Oliveira opened the scoring and Subait Khater doubled the lead on 90 minutes in an ill-tempered game at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
"The entire team played well for this result but our qualification hopes to the round of 16 ended with another result, which was very unfortunate," said Luis Milla, the Jazira coach.
"The win was very sweet to us, though. We showed we can play against any team, and it was not easy to beat a strong team like Tractor Sazi. Our defence was well organised and did a great job against a strong attacking side."
Jazira were unhappy with Tractor Sazi players who carried on with the match late in the first half while Khamis Ismail was on the ground with a leg injury. As the midfielder called for medical attention, Jazira played the ball out, only to see Tractor Sazi take a quick throw-in and continue play. Ismail was immediately replaced by Khater.
Antonio Oliveira, the Tractor Sazi coach, said it happened in the heat of the moment when his players were trying hard for the equaliser.
"I am always for fair play but this was an isolated incident," the Portuguese said. "We came here with the intention of either a win or a draw, but we couldn't achieve that result. We played well, especially in the first half. We controlled the game but we gifted Jazira a goal, which changed the game for us.
"After that goal, Jazira preserved the lead. They were well organised in the defence and used the counter-attack. We tried everything we could, both the short passing game and the long ball, but nothing worked for us. So congratulations for Jazira."
Mehdi Kiani gifted Oliveira the opening goal. The midfielder misjudged a back pass for the Brazilian to intercept. He carried inside the box and drew the goalkeeper Mehdi Sabeti before tapping it in for a seventh-minute lead. It was Oliveira's first goal in five games in the tournament after he topped the scoring chart in the continental championship last year to help Jazira reach the round of 16.
Oliveira left in the 65th minute with what appeared to be an injury.
"The players have had no rest with very tough games to play in the last four weeks," Milla said. "They have played non-stop for two months with two games a week, both in the Pro League and the Champions League.
"Tonight, they gave everything they had for this result. Ricardo and Khamis picked up injuries and we have to wait for the medical report to see how serious they are."
Jazira could have sealed the game five minutes from time had Ali Mabkhout taken an easy chance. The UAE international beat the offside trap and had all the time in the world to get around Sabeti and score. Instead he played a lethargic shot straight at the goalkeeper.
Still, Milla was enthused by the victory over the team who beat Jazira 3-1 in Tabriz in February.
"The win was very important for the team. It relieves a lot of pressure and hopefully we can take this momentum forward and finish the season on a high," Milla said.
"Tractor was pushing very hard after we scored because the result was very important for them. Under this circumstances the defence, which has been under pressure in recent times, stood solid."
Man of the Match Ali Kasheif (Al Jazira)
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