AHWAZ: Former winners Al Sadd of Qatar advanced to the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League on away goals after a thrilling 2-2 draw with Iranian champions Foolad Khouzestan at Ghadir Stadium on Wednesday.
Having drawn 0-0 in Doha in the first leg of the Round of 16 clash, Al Sadd grabbed the initiative in the return match with goals by Nadir Belhadj and Khalfan Ibrahim in the opening half-hour.
However, the Qatari side had to endure a nervous finish as defender Abdelkarim Hassan was sent off with 14 minutes left and they conceded twice to Chimba.
But to the disappointment of the home fans, Omid Khaledi headed against the woodwork in stoppage time as the Iranian side bowed out of the tournament despite not losing any of their eight games.
Goalkeeper Sousha Makani had conceded only two goals in his previous six games for Foolad in this season’s competition but he was found wanting when Al Sadd took the lead in the 16th minute.
There appeared to be little danger when a hopeful long ball was punted into the Foolad half for Belhadj to chase but the Algerian beat Abdollah Karami in the race to the ball before hitting a scuffed shot from 25 metres that trickled past Makani and rolled into the far corner of the net.
It was a crucial away goal for the visitors and their situation improved further when they scored again in the 29th minute. Yusef Ahmed chased down a long ball on the left flank and squared it to an unmarked Khalfan Ibrahim who unleashed a fierce shot from outside the box. Makani should have been able to handle the effort but he only succeeded in swatting the ball into his own net.
The home side showed little threat in the opening half-hour but they nearly got a goal back in the 36th minute when a pass over the Al Sadd defence found Chimba who flicked the ball past Lee Jung-soo but saw his shot stopped by goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb at his right post.
As the first half came to a close, Belhadj was denied a second goal when his fierce drive was beaten away by Makani while Chimba should have done better at the other end when he volleyed high and wide after latching on to Bakhtiar Rahmani’s knockdown.
Foolad continued to chase the game after the interval but they were nearly caught out in the 62nd minute when Hasan Al Haydos was sent clear on the counter-attack but fired his shot against the woodwork with only Makani to beat.
Lee Jung-soo made a heroic block to keep out an effort by substitute Esmaeil Shaifat in the 69th minute but Al Sadd’s resistance was finally broken when Abdelkarim Hassan brought down Soroush Rafiei in the box. The defender was sent off after he received his second yellow card and Chimba sent Al Sheeb the wrong way from the spot with his 77th minute penalty to narrow the deficit.
Foolad still needed to score twice but with only three minutes left, Ayoub Vali floated over a cross from the left that Chimba turned in with a glancing header to level the match.
With the game in stoppage time, they nearly completed the comeback when Khaledi headed against the left upright and Karami saw his follow up shot deflected wide.
Al Sadd could have wrapped things up shortly afterwards when Al Haydos again hit the right post after the ball had been squared to him by Belhadj. But that miss did not prove costly as Al Sadd hung on to advance to the last eight for the first time since they won the tournament in 2011.