Henk ten Cate 'optimistic' after rousing Al Jazira win versus Persepolis in the ACL

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Bench of Al Jazira after Khalifa Al Hammadi struck (Twitter/@AlJazira_uae).

Thrilled boss Henk ten Cate is “optimistic” his Al Jazira charges can travel to Tehran next week and complete their daunting 2018 AFC Champions League mission at Persepolis.

Monday’s rip-roaring round-of-16 opener saw young defender Khalifa Al Hammadi head in during the 96th minute to seal an enlivening 3-2 triumph against the 11-time Persian Gulf Pro League winners.

This followed a controversial 84th minute penalty, scored on the retake by visiting substitute Godwin Mensha to make it 2-2.

“The team showed a lot of energy and it was a good team effort, and a good win for us,” said Ten Cate.

“The winning goal was scored by one of our young players. I’m optimistic following this result.

“I’m sure we are going to score at least one away goal in the second leg. So, we’ll wait and see.

“It was an even match, but we were disappointed when we conceded the first goal from what appeared to be the first cross in the match.

“I’m not disputing the penalty. But, I’m confused why the linesman had his flag up when the referee was in a better position to judge what happened.”

Regrets were plentiful for ex-Al Wahda tactician Branko Ivankovic. His hopes of bettering last term’s run to the semi-finals are in the balance ahead of Monday’s return.

He said: “We made a few mistakes to concede three goals. Obviously, I’m very disappointed with the result.

“We need to win first. Of course, the two away goals will come in handy for us.”

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Al Jazira leave it late versus Persepolis to give themselves chance of making ACL history

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The Al Jazira players celebrate a stunning win against Persepolis in the 2018 AFC Champions League.

Al Jazira’s season of chaos could yet deliver a historic finish.

The Pride of Abu Dhabi gained control of their rollercoaster first AFC Champions League knockout tie since 2014 thanks to youngster Khalifa Al Hammadi’s rousing headed winner deep, deep into second-half injury time against imposing Persian Gulf Pro League holders Persepolis.

The home bench erupted and Morocco playmaker Mbark Boussoufa slipped into the arms of coach Henk ten Cate in an explosion of emotion.

What a moment for the 19-year-old defender to break his career duck.

This was an incredible show of character from the hosts at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

They first rebounded from one-cap Iran centre forward Ali Alipour’s deft headed opener just before the break.

Defiance was then required after the actions of Japanese referee Hiroyuki Kimura and his fellow officials appeared to wipe out a vital advantage.

UAE striker Ali Mabkhout – who else? – had provided the second-half catalyst.

With Jazira buoyant after recovering to take a 2-1 lead through the aforementioned UAE striker and Romarinho’s superb efforts, a controversial penalty call for handball with 10 minutes left from prone UAE prospect Mohammed Al Attas caused ructions.

Salt was thrown on open wounds when Ali Khaseif’s athletic spot-kick save from Godwin Mensha was ruled out for encroachment by the assistant referee. The aim of the substitute – who replaced Alipour – would not falter on a second occasion.

But past the five allocated minutes, Boussoufa swung in an unnerving set-piece from out wide to break the 2018’s edition meanest defence for a third time. Belief now abounds.

The small matter of escaping the lion’s den provided by the near 80,000-capacity Azadi Stadium awaits on Monday. Few leave Asia’s fiercest arena as victors, yet alone ones who’ve conceded two away goals.

But this patchwork Jazira matched European royalty Real Madrid for 81 minutes in December’s Club World Cup on home soil. They can exceed the fragmented sum of their parts.

Do so again and a landmark berth in the quarter-finals will see this group earn a special spot in the capital outfit’s annals.

A tense round-of-16, first leg of few chances appeared set for a damaging 1-0 reversal after 19-goal PGPL top scorer Alipour decisively nodded in a late first-half cross from Iran left winger Vahid Amiri.

Heads have gone down with frequency this term at the deposed Arabian Gulf League champions. No wonder when institutional tumult has followed at every turn.

But not this time.

How could they after Ten Cate’s impassioned “all or nothing” pre-match proclamation?

Shortly after the interval, Mabkhout skipped past a pair of Persepolis challenges and unflinchingly found the bottom corner to bring hope. This also extended the most-productive continental campaign of his celebrated career to five goals in six run-outs.

Even better followed.

A cute pass from Mabkhout was latched onto by onrushing Brazilian forward Romarinho. He calmly slotted past giant Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.

A sting in the tail came when Oman centre-back Mohammed Al Musalami’s loose clearance struck the unaware Mohamed Al Attas’ arm. Mensha did the rest.

Yet, you cannot discount this Jazira. Just ask Al Hammadi.

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Al Ain boss Zoran Mamic does not fear ACL rivals Al Duhail as the double winners clash

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Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic ahead of the 2018 AFC Champions League clash against Al Duhail (Al Ain).

Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic has a healthy respect for 2018 AFC Champions League rivals Al Duhail rather than fear, ahead of an intriguing round-of-16 clash between dominant domestic double winners.

A 2-1 victory for the 10-man Boss against Al Wasl on Thursday saw them add the President’s Cup to an Arabian Gulf League title claimed with a round to spare. This was the first time the UAE’s most-decorated club had achieved this feat during 50 years of existence.

Knockout opponents Duhail have registered even better results in a relentless first season since last April’s merger with El Jaish. They became just the fourth side in the ACL’s history to win all six group matches, while they were undefeated throughout the 2017/18 QNB Stars League and also took the Qatar Cup.

These achievements tee up a tantalising two-legged clash, beginning with Tuesday’s meeting at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

“We also made a great season and won the double,” said Mamic, whose troops drew their opening four Group D-fixtures to come home second. “I am not scared, but I have lots of respect for Al Duhail.

“This is because they have had a great season, they’ve won the double and did very good in the group stage.

“But this is only respect. We also have a very ,very good team that is full of quality.”

Mamic’s achievements in his first full season at the helm have been made more impressive by the fact they ended a near three-year trophy drought.

Brazilian forward Caio expanded on the confidence buzzing around the dressing room.

He said: “I feel good and the whole team feels very good. This is because we took two titles.”

Suspensions to influential Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat and UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem hamper the Al Ain case.

“I have to think about replacements,” said a pragmatic Mamic.

“This is the normal law in football. Thanks to God, we have good replacements.”

Duhail will be without electric Tunisia winger Youssef Msakni after last month’s serious knee injury ended his World Cup 2018 dream.

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