Al Nasr 4 (Al Yassi 15', Saleh 41', 77', Khamis 89')
Tractor Sazi 1 (Augusto 59')
Man of the match Salem Saleh (Al Nasr)
DUBAI // A first foray into the Asian Champions League knockout stages yielded a resounding first victory for Al Nasr, a historic night at Al Maktoum Stadium that hints at more to come.
The Dubai club, never beyond the groups in two previous attempts, emerged from their last-16 first-leg encounter against Iran’s Tractor Sazi Tuesday evening with a sizeable lead, three goals to the good and with one foot in the quarter-finals.
A goal from Ahmed Al Yassi, two from substitute Salem Saleh and a late Mahmoud Khamis rocket sealed it, securing Nasr a real advantage to take to Tabriz next week.
In an instant, those knockout novices appeared seasoned continental campaigners. Next week’s trip to Tabriz will still be tricky – Al Jazira lost 4-0 there earlier this year – but an inaugural run at the latter rounds looks set to continue.
“We won today 4-1, but we have to play one more game in Tabriz and it’ll be very difficult match,” said Ivan Jovanovic, the Nasr manager.
“And in order to qualify we need to play a better game than we did today. But in the end I want to say a big congratulations and bravo to my players, they gave everything and they write in golden letters a big new history for this club.”
Nasr were well on their way to forging a new chapter by half time, going 2-0 up thanks to Al Yassi’s fine finish following good work from Khamis on 15 minutes, one full-back eventually finding the other. By that stage, Nasr had already lost Nilmar to an ankle injury.
Yet his replacement stepped up twice, first when Saleh nodded home a Khamis corner just before the break, and then 13 minutes from time when he tapped Luis Jimenez’s rebounded shot into the Tractor net.
In between, the visitors had halved the deficit through Augusto’s acrobatic volley. Nasr responded like they had been here before, though, pushing forward to eventually plough through Tractor.
After Saleh put daylight between the teams, Khamis thundered an unstoppable shot high into the opposition goal.
Nasr’s fans celebrated wildly, a joyous victory to justify a brilliant night’s work. Tractor’s coach Amir Ghalenoei still saw it differently somehow, complaining about the referee, Nasr’s time-wasting and what he perceived to be the home side’s consistent feigning of injury.
“I trust in my team and their strengths and I’m sure we’re going to compensate in Tabriz with the help of our fans,” he said.
“Of course, only if they’re coming to play football, not in mistaking the pitch every time for a hospital.
“I believe the Arab countries pay so much play for football, if they could train more they should have improved their football more. Given all these facts, I say congratulations to the Nasr coach. I believe he would not like the type of football they play, because he comes from modern football countries. But it is in their blood; they do like this, all the Arab countries.”
It sounded like sour grapes, for his side have much work to do. For Nasr, though, an unlikely Asian assault promises even more.
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