By Sports Reporter/Doha
Al Rayyan joined Al Duhail and Al Sadd as the third Qatari team in the AFC Champions League group stage, but Al Gharafa threw away two-goal advantage in the play-off tie to bow out of the competition with a 2-3 loss yesterday.
For a large part, it looked like all the four giants of Qatar football would play in the continental club championship this year, before Gharafa shockingly let Zobahan off the hook as the Iranian side scored three times in the second half.
Rayyan, however, finished strongly against Iran’s Saipa as two last-minute goals gave them a 3-1 victory at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium. In the group stage, Al Rayyan are drawn with two-time champions Al Ittihad of Saudi as well as UAE’s Al Wahda and Uzbekistan’s PFC Lokomotiv in Group B.
Rayyan’s newly-signed striker Gelmin Rivas was the standout player as the Venezuelan struck twice. It’s been a dream start to his football journey in Qatar so far for Rivas, who in his debut match for his new club scored two goals and set up another against Al Arabi in the QNB Stars League last week,
It wasn’t a bright start for Rayyan though, as the home fans were left stunned after Saipa took lead inside four minutes. Mohamedreza Soleiman nodded the ball on to the path of Arman Ramezani, who capitalised on a defensive mix-up to stab home the opener.
Rayyan attempted to bounce back quickly, but Lucca Borges tested goalkeeper Hossein Akbarmonadi from distance, but the Saipa custodian was alert to the danger. Borges then nearly found the back of the net, but his header from Rodrigo Tabata’s set-piece cannoned off the crossbar and into the hands of Akbarmonadi.
Rivas marked his continental debut for Rayyan with a goal. The Venezuelan, formerly of Al Hilal and Al Ittihad, received Tabata’s pass inside the box and stuck on the half-volley. His 27th minute shot hit the upright on its way into the back of the net.
Despite sustained pressure from the home side, Ali Daei’s men defended well and relied on counter-attacks and set-pieces as they looked to upset Rayyan. Samuel Sarfo came close for Saipa with a header nine minutes into the second half and Moein Abbasian wasn’t any luckier, fluffing his lines from close range in the 64th minute.
The Iranian defence finally broke under the pressure, and it was again Tabata’s magical touch that created the opportunity for Al Rayyan. The former Qatari international sent a long ball from a set-piece that was guided expertly by Sebastian Soria’s header to turn the table in favour of the home team with one minute to go.
Saipa threw bodies forward as they looked to grab a late equaliser, but spaces opened at the back allowing Al Rayyan to strike again. Rivas doubled his tally and confirmed his side’s progress into the group stage after curling in from Koh Myong-jin’s intelligent pass.
Gharafa will be blaming themselves as some shocking defending allowed Zobahan to complete a historic comeback win. Gharafa broke the deadlock halfway through the opening period after midfielder Abdelaziz Hatim chested down a long pass and set up fellow Qatar international Ahmed Alaaeldin, who fired first time with his left into the top corner for the hosts’ first of the game.
Alaaeldin turned from scorer to provider in the 36th minute, laying off the ball to Mehdi Taremi, who slid home from the edge of the penalty box to double the Qatari side’s lead before the break.
Whatever it was that coach Alireza Mansourian said at the break, it worked wonders as Zobahan returned from the dressing room a completely different side.
Within two minutes of the restart, the visitors had pulled one back. Nigerian striker Christian Osaguona powered in a header past the helpless Youssef Hassan to half the deficit. Aerial balls proved to be Al Gharafa’s downfall as Amir Motahari rose above Lucas Mendes to head home Zobahan’s equaliser from Mohamed Reza Hosseini’s pinpoint cross in the 63rd minute. The Iranian side completed their miraculous comeback in the 79th minute through Mohammed Nejad Mehdi.
Al Gharafa’s defence failed to deal with the aerial challenge once more and Osaguona’s headed pass found its way to Mehdi who drilled on the half-volley to round off a famous victory. Zobahan retreated for the final 10 minutes and formed a compact unit, denying Al Gharafa any clear opportunities.
The hosts resorted to long-range shots, but in the absence of the injured Wesley Sneijder it was down to Hatim to try to rescue his side, but the Qatari international was unable to replicate his 2019 AFC Asian Cup heroics which saw him score two long-range drives. Zobahan join Al Wasl from the UAE, Al Zawraa from Iraq as well as Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr.
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