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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Ali Khaseif stalls Tractor Sazi momentum as Al Jazira earn point from ACL away game

UAE champions stoic at Yadegar-e Emam Stadium on Tuesday, stealing first-half goal and then defending dutifully

Al Jazira, in white, proved tough competitors for Tractor Sazi on Tuesday. Al Jazira
Al Jazira, in white, proved tough competitors for Tractor Sazi on Tuesday. Al Jazira

A hard-earned point in Tabriz ensured Al Jazira’s Asian Champions League hopes remain in their own hands.

The UAE champions were stoic and sturdy against Tractor Sazi at the Yadegar-e Emam Stadium on Tuesday, stealing a first-half goal and then defending dutifully. That had much to do with the performance of Ali Khaseif, the Jazira goalkeeper and captain, who was comfortably the game’s standout.

Khaseif repelled Tractor again and again. He could do little about the hosts’ 78-minute equaliser, but then resolved simply to keep their tally at that. Thanks primarily to their No 1, Jazira earned what could prove a precious point.

The 1-1 result meant the Abu Dhabi club are level – on five points – with Al Gharafa, who also drew 1-1 last night against table toppers Al Ahli Jeddah. Ahli have eight points.

Still, Jazira have two more matches to clinch a spot in the knockouts. Crucially, they control their destiny.

Goalkeeper Ali Khaseif continues his superb form for Al Jazira. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo
Goalkeeper Ali Khaseif continues his superb form for Al Jazira. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo

It could have been even better, though.

Despite missing the suspended Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Al Attas among others, Jazira struck first. It arrived moments before half time, when Musallem Fayez’s searching long pass set Romarinho free. Allowing the ball to bounce beyond the Tractor backline, the Brazilian stroked home past Jordi Almeida in the home goal.

Not long before that, Khaseif had twice thwarted the hosts. First, he leapt to his right to keep out Ehsan Pahlavan’s half volley. Then, he was alert enough to tip over Ali Taheran’s flush effort.

After the break, Khaseif made sure Jazira withstood Tractor for as long as they did. He raced off his line to block from midfielder Danial Esmaeilifar. Later, Esmaeilifar shot off target from the opposite side of the penalty area.

Yet, 12 minutes from time, Jazira’s resistance was broken. Pahlavan crossed for Farzad Hatami, who stole unmarked into the six-yard box and headed into the top corner.

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However, there was still time for Khaseif to secure the draw. With eight minutes remaining, he saved expertly when Esmaeilifar seemed certain to score. His header, from all of two yards, squeezed through Khaseif’s legs but was pounced upon on the line.

Jazira did have a penalty shout late on, but the referee seemed correct not to punish Aref Aghasi’s wild lunge on visiting forward Zayed Al Almeri. Replays showed the defender just about nicked the ball before connecting wholeheartedly with his rival.

So Jazira escaped with a point. Their doggedness secured it. Their ever-dependable goalkeeper was just that. A second successive draw against Tractor sustains Jazira’s bid for the last 16.