Al Nasr cruise to victory over Tractor Sazi in AFCCL last-16 opener

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  • Al Nasr's Salem Saleh Al Rejaibi celebrates after his goal.

    A predatory brace from early substitute Salem Saleh, sandwiched by rockets from full-backs Ahmed Al Yassi and Mahmoud Khamis, secured a fully-merited 4-1 triumph against spiky Tractor Sazi. Not even a volleyed away goal from Brazilian midfielder Augusto could take the sheen off an incredible round-of-16 opener for Ivan Jovanovic’s men.

    The return clash next Tuesday will be bitterly contested, there is no doubt about that. The Red Wolves came to Dubai looking for a fight rather than a football match, with more of the same expected in Iran.

    But a huge opportunity has been earned to extend this debut foray – at the third time of asking – into the quarter-finals. Neighbours Al Ahli and their march to the 2015 showpiece can attest to how far first steps can take you in Asia’s premier club competition.

    “We won today 4-1, but we have to play one more game in Tabriz and it’ll be very difficult match,” said Jovanovic, who remarkably led Cypriot minnows APOEL to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2011/12. “And in order to qualify we need to play a better game than we did today.

    “But in the end I want to say a big congratulations and bravo to my players, they gave everything and they write in golden letters a big new history for this club.”​

    Incendiary opposite number Amir Ghalenoei saw it differently. To say the least.

    He said: “I trust in my team and their strengths and I’m sure we’re going to compensate in Tabriz with the help of our fans. Of course, only if they’re coming to play football, not in mistaking the pitch every time for a hospital.

    “I believe the Arab countries pay so much play for football, if they could train more they should have improved their football more. Given all these facts, I say congratulations to the Nasr coach.

    “I believe he would not like the type of football they play, because he comes from modern football countries. But it is in their blood; they do like this, all the Arab countries.”

    A turning point at Al Maktoum Stadium came in just the 11th minute, an innocuous ankle knock for Brazil striker Nilmar springing Salem Saleh from the bench.

    The opener came soon after the 25-year-old’s introduction, Al Yassi sweeping in after a devilish Khamis delivery was not cleared.

    The lead was doubled just before the break. Saleh – a summer signing from Al Wahda – nodded home unmarked after centre-back Essam Dhahi’s flick from a corner.

    An unsightly scrap between the Tractor players, security and officials ended the half on a sour note.

    Nevertheless, the visitors returned enlivened and were given hope on 59 minutes as Brazilian winger Augusto acrobatically slammed in from a set-piece.

    Saleh is a reserve forward for club and country. But his rise to centre stage was completed when he tapped in on the line after Chile playmaker Luis Jimenez’s volley bounced off the post.

    An incredible evening was then lifted even further as Khamis launched a swerving missile from 30 yards straight past helpless Iran goalkeeper Mohammadreza Akhbari. The Al Maktoum faithful will never forget this.