Returning Persepolis captain Jalal Hosseini decisively struck in the 89th minute at a packed Azadi Stadium to painfully deny brave Al Jazira a debut berth in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals.
Here are the talking points from Monday’s engaging round-of-16 decider in Tehran.
JUST AS JAZIRA COULD DREAM…
The contrast to last week’s slow-burning, 3-2 opener at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium could not have been made starker from the off.
Persepolis went for the jugular, knowing only victory would likely do, with a 4-4-2 formation in front of their baying 80,000-capacity crowd at the Azadi.
The Persian Gulf Pro League-holders had 21 shots to Jazira’s three, their 517 passes was 271 more than the visitors and they had 69 per cent of possession.
But this all seemed academic when Brazilian forward Romarinho beautifully found the bottom corner from 25 yards on 70 minutes, soon after midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi’s venomous breakthrough.
Henk ten Cate’s troops then appeared to have ridden the storm, only for veteran defender Mohammed Fayez’s tired clearance to land at the feet of the grateful Hosseini.
MAN FOR THE BIG OCCASION
Much was expected when the Pride of Abu Dhabi stole Romarinho last summer from the QNB Stars League.
He’d been prolific there for the amalgamated El Jaish, scoring 40 times in 72 top-flight run-outs. That makes his 2017/18 return for the deposed Arabian Gulf League champions, of just seven in 20 matches, disappointing.
But there is a significant caveat. The 27-year-old struck against Real Madrid in December’s Club World Cup semi-finals and in both legs versus Persepolis.
KEEP HOLD OF HENK
Changes will surely follow this summer – they always do.
Yet one man who deserves to stay is Ten Cate. Under chaotic circumstances off the pitch, the coach with an expiring deal nearly claimed another landmark achievement.
There is no better candidate to put Pride in Jazira’s name than the 63-year-old Dutchman.
Last week’s clash of the domestic double winners at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium proved surprisingly one sided as the visitors stormed to a stunning 4-2 first-leg advantage.
A huge task now awaits the 2002/03 winners on Tuesday at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium to overturn this yawning deficit against rampant opponents who were undefeated in the QNB Stars League, have won all seven Asian fixtures and are on a 19-match winning streak in all competitions.
“Despite the poor score in Al Ain, our chances remain in the competition for qualification to the next stage,” declared ex-Croatia defender Mamic, whose team must score a minimum three times.
“All possibilities are always open in football. It does not recognise talk of the impossible.
“We have to deal realistically and fight to the last minute.”
The Boss will be without Brazilian forward Caio after his late dismissal for kicking out. But productive midfielder Hussein El Shahat – snubbed this week for Egypt’s World Cup 2018 squad – and veteran UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem return from suspension.
Mamic was particularly pleased to see January addition El Shahat back.
He said: “Every player has his style and there is no specific player who will replace Caio. But my team has a good number of players and we will not forget that we will see the return of Hussein El Shahat.”
A pair of Arabian Gulf League sides have made contact with Pierluigi Tami and are trying to lure the respected coach, who is expected to be a contender if Switzerland split with Vladimir Petkovic after World Cup 2018.
Tami, 56, is lauded for his work at several junior national teams. This includes guiding the likes of Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka, Stoke winger Xherdan Shaqiri and Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer to runners-up at the 2011 European Under-21 Championship.
The Italy-born, Swiss national is available for work after a second spell at Lugano – fearsome ex-Argentine, Real Madrid and Inter Milan centre-back Water Samuel was assistant – ended with his premature dismissal last month after a drastic drop in form.
But a reputation for establishing sides with thorough defensive organisation has made him a man in demand. Beyond the UAE and his native country, the Switzerland No2 from 2006-15 is also wanted by several Bundesliga sides.
Tami remains open to the overtures from the unnamed AGL outfits.
Current available posts for 2018/19 in the Emirates’ top flight include promoted outfits Bani Yas and Fujairah.
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club are also in the market for a new leader – believed to be Al Ittihad’s Jose Luis Sierra.
Meanwhile, Fujairah have snapped up Al Shabab Riyadh forward Mohamed Benyettou and shown they are wasting no time after a two-year stint away from the top flight ended on Sunday.
Algerian Benyettou, 28, scored 22 times in 57 Saudi Professional League fixtures.