Wesley Sneijder on target as Al Gharafa progress

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Wesley Sneijder was on target in his AFC Champions League debut as Al Gharafa beat Pakhtakor 2-1 to qualify for the group stage for the first time since 2011.

Sneijder broke the deadlock for Al Gharafa in Tuesday’s playoff at the Thani bin Jassim Stadium in the 21st minute when he sent Aleksandar Lobanov the wrong way from the penalty spot, after Mehdi Taremi had been illegally barged over inside the area.

It was the Netherlands international’s second goal since he sensationally joined the Qatari giants from French Ligue 1 outfit Nice earlier in the month.

Seven minutes later, the hosts edged further ahead when Taremi embarked on an enterprising run and danced around both Dilshod Rakhmatullaev and Sherzod Amatov before laying the ball off to Diogo Amado, whose low drive took a deflection and squirmed under Lobanov.

With a two-goal cushion in their grasp, Al Gharafa rarely looked in danger of relinquishing progress into the group stage of Asia’s premier club competition.

But, in the third minute of injury-time, goalkeeper Qasem Burhan could only collide into team-mate Saeed El-Hadj while attempting to deal with a cross, allowing Jasurbek Khakimov to finish into the unguarded net and pull one back for the visitors.

Remarkably, Pakhtakor then had a chance to equalise and force extra-time right at the death when Jasurbek Yakhshiboev’s slide-rule pass released Marko Simic, only for Burhan to come to his side’s rescue and deny the Montenegrin from point-blank range.

Ultimately, Al Gharafa did just enough to join Al Duhail, Al Sadd and Al Rayyan as Qatar’s representatives in the ACL, where they will now go on to meet Al Jazira, Al Ahli and Tractor Sazi in Group A.

AL GHARAFA: Qasem Burhan, Monqez Odai, Almahdi Ali Mukhtar (Saeed El-Hadj 11’), Rubert Quijada, Fuhaid Al-Shammari, Assim Madibo (Khalid Abdulraouf 76’), Diogo Amado, Wesley Sneijder, Ahmed Alaaeldin, Abdulaziz Hatem (Thamer Jamal 66’), Mehdi Taremi.

PAKHTAKOR: Aleksandar Lobanov, Akmal Shorakhmedov, Sherzod Azamov, Marko Simic, Vladimir Kozak, Azimjon Akhmedov (Jasurbek Khakimov 67’), Dilshod Rakhmatullaev, Bakhrom Abdurakhimov (Jasurbek Yakhshiboev 62’), Jamshid Iskanderov, Jaloliddin Masharipov, Tiago Bezerra.