Al Nasr 2 Nasr Nilmar 57', Pitroipa (pen) 90'
Man of the match: Jonathan Pitroipa (Nasr)
DUBAI // A first home match in the Asian Champions League in three years breathed fresh life into Al Nasr’s continental campaign. With it, their season received a jump-start, too.
The Dubai club have struggled for more than a month, winning once in seven matches, a run that this past week included an opening defeat in the Champions League and an immediate exit from the President’s Cup. Nasr were defending champions.
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But victory at Al Maktoum Stadium allowed them to pull back from the precipice, and in the process gain revenge on Sepahan, the Iranian side who had triumphed in the Group A opener seven days previously.
Thankfully for those in attendance, Nasr obliged. The hosts sealed victory through Nilmar’s clever invention not long into the second half and Jonathan Pitroipa’s penalty right at the death.
Understandably, coach Ivan Jovanovic was grateful for the much-needed fillip.
“It was a very important game for us and a very important win,” he said. “As a coach I can only feel proud about my team and my players, not only because they win but because of the passion and the power they show in wanting to win the game.
“I don’t have to add anything more, I believe this is a day for my players to speak about this game. They deserve this because they played an excellent game.”
Nasr should have won more convincingly. Both sides traded chances in the first half - Nasr’s best blasted over by captain Tariq Ahmed - but soon after the break the UAE club could have run away with the match.
Nilmar’s intervention on 57 minutes, when with back to the Sepahan goal he cleverly flicked the ball over goalkeeper Shahab Gordan, sparked Nasr into life.
A goal to the good, Nilmar should have doubled his and his team’s tally, while Hussain Abbas, creator of the goal, sidefooted his own shot high over the bar from close range. Nine minutes out from full time, Nilmar followed suit.
Yet Nasr never relented, and wrapped up the points in injury time. Ahmed Ibrahim was hauled down in the Sepahan area, leaving Pitroipa to coolly slot away the spot kick. Igor Stimac, the Sepahan coach, conceded the result was justified.
“Nasr were quicker than us, more aggressive than us and they showed more willingness to win the game,” he said. “We didn’t deserve anything from this.”
In contrast, Jovanovic hopes his team can build upon a welcome triumph. Third in the Arabian Gulf League and now on the board in Asia, Al Maktoum Stadium seems a brighter place again.
“A team like us every season wants to have higher targets,” Jovanovic said. “We have to adapt the situations of each competition, either the league or the Champions League, and have to take the maximum we can.”
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