Walter Zenga rests his top players for the home encounter with regular foes Sepahan, but the local starting line-up is not enough to prevet a 2-1 loss to the Iranian champions, writes Ahmed Rizvi.
Asian Champions League: Al Nasr's all-Emirati line-up cannot tame Sepahan
Al Nasr 1 Sepahan 2
Al Nasr Mohammed 71’
Sepahan Dalovic 30’, Gholami 79’
DUBAI // Al Nasr's fruitless run in the Champions League continued Tuesday night when they suffered their fifth defeat in as many games, losing 2-1 to Iran champions Sepahan.
Radomir Dalovic gave the visitors a 30th-minute lead and Mohammed Gholami made it 2-1 in the 79th minute after Hassan Mohammed had levelled the score for the hosts.
But the win was of little consolation for Sepahan as the 2-2 draw between Al Gharafa and Al Ahli earlier in the evening had already put them out of the reckoning for a place in the second round.
However, the Sepahan coach, Zlatko Kranjcar, was "satisfied" with the efforts of his players in the game and he also congratulated Nasr boss Walter Zenga for starting an all-Emirati XI.
"I congratulate Nasr for playing a great game," Kranjcar said. "They surprised us with their starting line-up and their players seemed really determined to win.
"They went shoulder to shoulder with our team and both teams created plenty of scoring opportunities.
"So, I have to be satisfied with this win."
As the Nasr team took the pitch, many of their fans must have been surprised.
There was no Bruno Correa and Leonardo Lima, Giuseppe Mascara and Takayuki Morimoto were on the bench.
Even Habib Fardan was not included in the starting XI. With Nasr out of contention for a place in the second round of the Champions League and facing some crucial games at home in the coming weeks, Zenga had decided to give his top players some much-needed rest.
"I am very happy with the performance of the team," Zenga said. "They played a great game. I believe we were better than the opposition throughout the 90 minutes.
"It is true that we lost the game, but we have won in the spirits stake because we started with all Emirati players. This is the first time it's happening in the UAE."
The Italian goalkeeping legend seemed most-pleased with the manner in which Mohammed equalised for the hosts in the 71st minute. The striker slipped in at the far corner to boot home Hassan Ameen's cross. Across the last two days, they had been practising that move in training.
"We scored the goal in exactly the same way we have been practising and that is why it was so pleasing," Zenga said.
"Hassan, in my opinion, is one of the best young strikers in the UAE. This season, unfortunately, he was not able to show his real face, but I hope he will continue in this way."
Man of the match Mohammed Reza Khalatbari (Sepahan)
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