Al Wahda’s prospects in the 2017 AFC Champions League appear bleak after two late goals from Persepolis centre forward Mehdi Taremi saw the hosts snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
A spectacular half-time introduction from club legend Ismail Matar looked to have turned this Group D-clash the Clarets’ way, following forward Vahid Amiri’s early close-range effort for the Persian Gulf Pro League’s pacesetters.
This goal caused a third member of the UAE’s faltering four-strong ACL contingent to concede within the first five minutes during the past two days.
In response, the former-mentioned 33-year-old expertly chipped in an equaliser and then deftly sparked the move from which enigmatic Chile playmaker Jorge Valdivia lashed in to make it 2-1 just past the hour mark.
But with less than 10 minutes left, Jorge Aguirre’s suspect three-man defence – a formation not previously utilised by the Mexican – was exposed.
Iran target man Taremi first outjumped everyone to convert vice-captain Hossein Mahini’s lofted cross, before crucially slipping through a porous backline at the death to embarrassingly volley in Soroush Rafiei’s cute free-kick.
With two defeats from two matches and the daunting visit of Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal to come in a fortnight, a swift elimination upon the end of their six-year wait to feature in Asia’s elite club competition seems inevitable.
“After taking the lead we had two clear chances that could have killed the game,” Aguirre said. “We played better in the second half, but we fell flat in the last 10 minutes, perhaps, the players panicked.”
Taremi’s heroics made it a glorious return to Al Nahyan Stadium for coach Branko Ivankovic, who was sacked midway through a two-year deal in April 2013.
His current charges both lived up to their physical billing and proved why more than a third of Iran’s training squad in January was drawn from their ranks. A foothold in West Asia’s most-exacting section is just reward.
The Croatian said: “We are in a group of death and the three points are very important for us to keep our hopes of qualifying.”