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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Al Jazira exit Asian Champions League with 'heads up' after last-minute defeat to Persepolis

Abu Dhabi club were minutes away from reaching the quarter-finals before Hosseini struck the vital winner for the Iranian champions

Ali Khasheif, right, made a number of important saves for Al Jazira but the Abu Dhabi club exited the Asian Champions League at the last-16 stage. Atta Kenare / AFP
Ali Khasheif, right, made a number of important saves for Al Jazira but the Abu Dhabi club exited the Asian Champions League at the last-16 stage. Atta Kenare / AFP

UAE striker Ali Mabkhout said Al Jazira exit the Asian Champions League “with our heads up” after Persepolis struck a last-minute winner to progress to the quarter-finals yesterday.

With the tie poised at 3-2 following Jazira’s dramatic victory in Abu Dhabi last week, the Arabian Gulf League club were on the verge of sealing a historic place in the last-eight after Brazilian Romarinho cancelled out Ahmad Nourollahi’s opener.

However, with one minute remaining of regular time, Seyed Jalal Hosseini scored the winner to guide Iranian champions Persepolis through on away goals and send a packed Azadi stadium into raptures.

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After neither side could break the deadlock in the first half, Nourollahi handed the hosts the advantage in the 63rd minute when the midfielder fired home a stinging shot from outside the area into the roof of the net.

The joy of the 100,000 fans in attendance was short lived as, seven minutes later, Jazira forward Romarinho scored the all-important equaliser for the visitors.

The Brazilian split the Persepolis defence to send a low shot into the bottom corner after receiving a short pass from Ahmed Al Attas, whose contribution was his first touch of the ball since coming on as a substitute.

Jazira then had to withstand some Persepolis pressure as goalkeeper Ali Kasheif did well to keep out two efforts on goal. First, the UAE stopper produced a dive to his left to prevent a header from Nigerian forward Godwin Mensha, before pushing out a fierce drive from Ali Mosleh.

But just as it seemed Jazira had done enough to reach the quarter-finals for the first time, Hosseini struck in the 89th minute, the defender knocking home the winner from the centre of the area following a rebound off Jazira defender Musallam Fayez

Despite the last-minute disappointment, Emirati striker Mabkhout believes Jazira should be proud of their efforts.

“We played well and did well to keep the game alive until the final whistle,” the UAE international said during the post-match television interview.

“We played to our strength and nearly had the game won if not for a mistake in the last minutes of the game. Obviously we are very disappointed but we walk away with our heads up.”

Elimination from the Champions League concludes a frustrating season for Jazira and their Dutch manager Henk ten Cate.

After a record-breaking 2016/17 season in which Jazira won their second Arabian Gulf League title, this campaign has proved tough going. The Abu Dhabi club finished seventh in the 12-team domestic league, ending the season 25 points behind champions Al Ain.

Last season, Jazira won all 13 home games, amassing 22 wins in total from 26 matches. This campaign Jazira won five of their 11 home matches, and were victorious only twice on the road.

They were also heavily beaten in the quarter-finals of the President’s Cup by rivals Al Wahda.

The undoubted high point of Jazira's season came in December and their participation in the Fifa Club World Cup.

After progressing past OFC champions Auckland City in the first round and Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds in the second round, Jazira pushed the mighty Real Madrid all the way in the semi-finals before falling to a late Gareth Bale winner.