AFC Champions League 2019: Al Ittihad see off Zob Ahan in seven-goal thriller

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Al Ittihad toiled their way into the AFC Champions League 2019 quarter-finals as they beat Zob Ahan 4-3 on Monday to progress from the Round of 16 6-4 on aggregate.

Showing the greater initiative from the opening whistle at the Grand Hamad Stadium, it initially looked as though Al Ittihad would be denied the advantage heading into the break as they found Mohammad Bagher Sadeghi in outstanding form.

On three occasions, the Zob Ahan goalkeeper produced outstanding saves to keep out goal-bound efforts by Romarinho, Carlos Villanueva and Luis Jimenez.

Nonetheless, right on the stroke of halftime, Zob Ahan’s awful defending was finally punished as Emiliano Vecchio exploited a huge gap in the opposition backline to race onto Villanueva’s neat pass and finish into the bottom corner.

Eight minutes after the restart, the Iranian outfit levelled the scores when a freekick swung in from the left sailed over a sea of players and ricocheted off a luckless Jimenez, who could only watch on in horror as the ball hit the back of his own net.

But, straight from the kickoff, Zob Ahan fell behind once more in calamitous fashion and the disaster could not have struck a less-deserving player, as Sadeghi completely miscued an attempted clearance and sliced the ball backwards into his own goal.

Ten minutes later, Al Ittihad added a third when Hamdan Al-Shamrani embarked on a barnstorming run down the left and played a perfect low cross at the feet of Romarinho, who made no mistake this time in beating Sadeghi from six yards out.

Al Ittihad then looked to be coasting to victory when they scored again in the 70th minute, as Jimenez’s first-time layoff from an incisive Villanueva pass was finished off by Romarinho.

However, Zob Ahan reduced the deficit just two minutes later when Hadi Mohammadi got in ahead of his marker to meet Ghasem Hadadifar’s corner with a thumping header past Fawaz Al-Qarni.

And, with seven minutes remaining, the designated hosts gave themselves more hope when Hadadifar and Danial Esmaeilifar combined to create an opening for Alireza Cheraghali, whose fierce drive was spilled by Al-Qarni for Macauley Christantus to pounce and score on the rebound.

Still, it was always going to be a bridge too far and it proved to be so, as Al Ittihad went on to claim the victory and book their place in the quarters.

ZOB AHAN: Mohammad Bagher Sadeghi, Danial Esmaeilifar, Hadi Mohammadi, Vahid Mohammadzadeh (Milad Fakhreddini 67’), Hamid Maleki, Hamid Bou Hamdan, Mehdi Mehdipour, Ehsan Pahlavan (Mohammadreza Abbasi 50’), Ghasem Hadadifar, Macauley Christantus, Amir Arsalan Motahari (Alireza Cheraghali 53’).

AL ITTIHAD: Fawaz Al-Qarni, Saud Abdulhamid, Ziyad Al-Sahafi, Abdulmohsen Fallatah, Hamdan Al-Shamrani, Emiliano Vecchio, Khaled Al-Sumairi, Abdullelah Al-Malki (Mansour Al-Harbi 90’), Carlos Villanueva (Abdulrahman Al-Obud 78’), Luis Jimenez, Romarinho (Abdulaziz Al-Bishi 78’).