The inexperienced Pride of Abu Dhabi headed out on Monday into the cauldron atmosphere created by a fevered 80,000-capacity crowd at Azadi Stadium with a 3-2 advantage from last week’s home leg.
They appeared poised for a first-ever progression into the quarter-finals after Brazilian forward Romarinho’s low strike on 70 minutes – his sixth goal in eight continental games this term – immediately cancelled out anchorman Ahmad Nourollahi’s thunderbolt.
But waves of pressure, from a match in which the 11-time Persian Gulf Pro League holders had 69 per cent possession, finally told at the death. A jaded clearance from Musallem Fayez was immediately half-volleyed home by fellow veteran centre-back Jalal Hosseini to spark wild celebrations in the red half of Tehran.
“To lose like this in the 89th minute… we were very close,” said Ten Cate, who could have overseen the last match of his transformative two-and-a-half-year stint. “I think we did very well.
“It is hard to lose like this. We kicked the ball out for an injury and we didn’t get it back. From that action, they scored.
“We can learn from this. If you kick the ball out, kick it far away. But that is the inexperience of the team.
“We stayed so long within a fantastic atmosphere, with so many young players. The players deserve compliments. It will be a long trip back home, as the players are disappointed.”
Persepolis topped Group C in the ACL and earned a second-successive domestic title under Branko Ivankovic by a nine-point margin.
That the ex-Al Wahda coach declared he needed “Supermen” to defeat a team that contained promising defenders Khalifa Al Hammadi, 19, and Mohammed Al Attas, 20, speaks volumes about unfancied Jazira’s efforts.
He said: “Absolutely, we deserved to win and qualify for the quarter-finals. I am so proud of my players and so happy to be the coach of this group.
“Jalal [Hosseini] is a very important player for us. He is the leader of the team and he is a Superman – but he also had 12 team-mates who were Supermen.”
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.”