Tsukasa Shiotani scored a sublime goal to rescue a point for Al Ain in a 1-1 draw with Esteghlal in Tehran – a fourth straight draw for the Boss in this season’s AFC Champions League.
After coming from behind twice to seal a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium a week ago in a game that saw the hosts awarded two controversial penalties, it was the hosts who were this time the recipients of a generous refereeing decision when Hong Kong official Kwok Man Liu pointed to the spot in the 39th minute.
Contact looked minimal between visiting defender Ismail Ahmed and Farshid Esmaeili, with replays proving the Iranian midfielder had thrown himself theatrically at the UAE international, while any contact had actually occurred outside the box.
But Senegal striker Mame Thiam confidently stroked home the spot-kick for his third goal in two games against the Boss to give his side the lead at a raucous Azadi Stadium, where the attendance was 90,000.
But Al Ain kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the last 16 when Japan’s Shiotani played a smart one-two with youngster Rayan Yaslam to curl beyond Seyed Hosseini with his weaker right foot with 12 minutes remaining.
Both sides pushed for a winner but Marcus Berg fired wide when in a good spot 12 yards out before Khalid Essa beat out substitute Ali Ghorbani’s stoppage time shot.
The away side came into this crunch clash amid a backdrop of animosity, following events in the Garden City last week.
Esteghlal, managed by former Al Ain coach Winfried Schaefer, were also set to be out for revenge after a 6-1 hammering in the second leg of last year’s last 16 between these sides, a result which had followed a 1-0 victory for the hosts in Tehran.
They had Zoran Mamic’s men under the cosh from the start with visitors seemingly keen to soak up home pressure and settle themselves amidst a vociferous atmosphere.
Once they overcame a lively start from the hosts, Shiotani served notice of his power as he unleashed a fierce strike from distance following a corner that whistled past keeper Seyed Hosseini’s near post.
The pressure was coming mainly from the hosts but the best chances were falling to the Boss and talisman Omar Abdulrahman almost silenced the home crowd when his wonderful curled effort was brushed onto the bar by Hosseini.
Just as they were beginning to get a grip on the game, Al Ain fell behind in farcical circumstances.
Esmaeili went over the leg offered by Ahmed even though there was no contact and it was just outside, but the referee pointed to the spot much to the ire of the Al Ain players, with keeper Essa booked for protesting where the ball was positioned.
After several minutes of furious debate, Thiam tucked away the spot kick coolly.
Marcus Berg couldn’t get set and Hosseini blocked his weak effort early in the second half. Minutes later Daryoush Shojaeian fired tamely at Essa. Young Al Ain star Yaslam then curled just wide in the 73rd minute but the 23-year-old then exchanged passes with Shiotani as the defender fired his side level.
Elsewhere, Al Wahda kept alive their slim hopes of qualifying for the knockout rounds with a maiden win in the Group B clash with Iran’s Zob Ahan.
The Clarets, pointless prior to the game following three straight defeats, swept to a 3-0 win at Zayed Sports City. Argentine talisman Sebastian Tagliabue put them in front on the stroke of half-time from Balazs Dzsudzsak’s assist, before the Hungary winger then teed up Mourad Batna for a second three minutes before the hour mark. Batna then set up Mohamed Al Akbari to wrap up the win and a priceless three points eight minutes later.
Laurentiu Reghecampf’s side are now level on points with Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv Tashkent after they lost 2-1 at home to Qatari group leaders Al Duhail.
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