Spain and Barcelona legend Xavi rolled back the years with a superb first-half brace only for Al Sadd to twice squander their lead and settle for a 2-2 draw against Uzbek giants Pakhtakor in their AFC Champions League encounter here on Tuesday.
Fresh from their record 14th league title in Qatar, Al Sadd seemingly had the match in control but defensive errors allowed the hosts to grab a vital point that helped them stay atop Group D with five points from three matches.
Al Sadd are second on four points, ahead Persepolis on goal difference, after the Iranians defeated Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli 2-0 for their first victory in Doha on Tuesday.
At the Pakhtakor Markaziy Stadium in the Uzbek capital, it was Xavi who was undoubtedly the star of the show as he silenced the partisan crowd by displaying glimpses of his class that had made him the most feared midfield maestro during his heyday.
Barely had the match settled into some sort of a pattern, when Xavi stamped his authority with a sublime strike in the sixth minute.
After receiving a fine pass from Baghdad Bounedjah, the highest scorer in last season’s AFC Champions League, the Spaniard curled in the ball from the edge of the penalty to beat the Pakhtakor goalkeeper Sanjar Kuvvatov all ends up.
Much to Al Sadd’s disappointment, however, the advantage however lasted only three minutes as Khojiakbar Alijonov punished the visitors for a poor clearance with a powerful shot past goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham.
With both sides intent on attacking, it was only a matter of minutes before another goal materialised, and sure enough it was Xavi once again who was in the thick of the action.
The Al Sadd skipper, who has announced he will retire at the end of the season, struck spectacularly from a 25-yard free-kick in the 16th minute to restore the Qatari side’s lead.
But once again they couldn’t hold on to the lead as Serbian Dragan Ceran made it 2-2 for Pakhtakor in the 42nd minute with a fine header past Barsham.
Both teams failed to make good of the chances that came their way in the second half as the match eventually ended in a stalemate. They will clash in the reverse fixture in Doha in two weeks’ time.
Meanwhile, an added-time goal from Leonardo sealed a 2-1 comeback win for UAE’s Al Wahda against Qatar’s Al Rayyan in Group B.
The two sides went into the fixture level on three points, with goal difference favouring Al Wahda.
Al Rayyan looked to pump crosses into the box for Gelmin Rivas throughout the first half with the Venezuelan striker seeing his header saved by goalkeeper Mohammed Al Shamsi at the 15-minute mark.
Rivas was again at the receiving end of a Mohammed Juma cross six minutes later, but he failed direct his header goalward.
Korean defender Rim Chang-woo responded with a headed effort for Al Wahda, but his ball sailed over the crossbar, before Rivas again missed a header from a Rodrigo Tabata cross.
A last-ditch tackle from Mohamed Alaeldin denied the UAE side a certain scoring opportunity before the half-time break. The Qatar defender snatched the ball from underneath the feet of Leonardo as the Brazilian was set to pull the plug following a quick counter attack.
The match burst into life in the second half as Rivas finally got his goal for Al Rayyan. The striker evaded his marker to get on the end of Lucca Borges’ cross from the right wing and slip home the opener eight minutes after the restart.
Al Wahda restored parity in the 67th minute through Sebastian Tagliabue. Playmaker Ismail Matar supplied a superb through pass for the Argentine who latched onto the ball and applied a composed finish past goalkeeper Fahad Younis.
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