Muscat, April 21 (IANS) Muscat Zobahan guaranteed themselves top spot in Group B and a place in the knockout phase of the 2016 AFC Champions League when a brace by Ehsan Pahlavan either side and a strike by Kaveh Rezaei sealed a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr.
The victory secured by Yahya Golmohammadi’s side on Wednesday evening mean the Iranians win the group ahead of Qatar’s Lekhwiya while Al Nassr are eliminated from the competition.
Zobahan has 11 points from five games, three more than second placed Lekhwiya, who won against Bunyodkor earlier in the day, while Al Nassr is in third place on five points. The Saudis, though, cannot overhaul Lekhwiya due to an inferior head-to-head record while Zobahan cannot be overtaken by Lekhwiya thanks to their 1-0 win over the Qataris earlier.
“The match was tough but we could still win and get three important points,” said Golmohammadi. “Our key strength tonight was our defenders. They played an important role in the victory which secured our place in the knockout stage.
“I want to thank the players for their contribution as they put in a lot of effort to achieve this great result. I didn’t expect that we would win by such a margin but the victory was good and it will give us a big push for the last match.”
Zobahan had few problems against an Al Nassr side, who let only Adrian Mierzejewski going close for the Riyadh-based club in the first 45 minutes.
Ghasem Hadadifar saw his attempt parried away by Abdullah Al Enezi before Zobahan opened the scoring in the 27th minute when Hadadifar opened up the Al Nassr defence, and Pahlavan ran in on goal to score.
Al Nassr opened up as they sought an equaliser, thus Zobahan had more time and space to cause problems to the Saudi side’s defence.
Sixteen minutes from time, the Iranians doubled their advantage when Hashem Beikzadeh’s cross from the left was headed back across goal by Morteza Tabrizi and Rezaei scored with a side-foot volley from six yards out.
And with seven minutes remaining, Pahlavan put the seal on the points with the best goal of the game after he cut in from the left touchline before surging through the Al Nassr defence and sliding the ball under Al Enezi to score.
“The defeat was heavy and what made things worse is that we have lost our chance in the competition,” said Al Nassr coach Raul Caneda. “We played well in the first half in general but a defensive mistake gave the chance for our opponents to take the lead.
“That goal affected the players and they couldn’t get back into the game as they were tired and they made more mistakes. We will study the reasons behind our exit from the competition and hopefully we can improve in the future.”