Posted on February 28, 2013

Brazilian striker Nilmar grabbed a late equaliser as Qatari side Al Rayyan came from behind three times to earn a hard-fought point in a 3-3 draw with Iranian giants Esteghlal in their Group D opener at the Al Rayyan Stadium on Wednesday.

Nilmar (Nilmar Honorato da Silva) struck just a minute after Iran captain Javad Nekounam, who was playing in his first AFC Champions League match since 2005, appeared to have won the match for the visitors with a penalty. Jlloyd Samuel and Arash Borhani were also on target for the Iranian side but their efforts were cancelled out by a Rodrigo Tabata penalty and an own goal by Hami Omranzadeh.

Esteghlal had beaten Al Rayyan in both of their group stage meetings last year and they were clearly the better side in the first half as they created the majority of the chances. They took the lead in the 27th minute when Mojtaba Jabari beat the offside trap on the right flank and squared the ball to the edge of the box where Samuel was on hand to fire a right-footed effort past Al Rayyan goalkeeper Oumar Barry.

The visitors had an opportunity to extend their lead in the 33rd minute when Nekounam’s cross from the right was headed by Siavash Akbarpour onto the crossbar. That miss looked to be costly when Al Rayyan got back on terms three minutes later after they had been awarded a penalty for Hanif Omranzadeh’s handball. Rodrigo Tabata duly fired the spot kick past Mahdi Rahmati to make it 1-1.

However, Esetehglal would regain the lead in stoppage time at the end of the first half when a long pass by Jlloyd Samuel found Borhani who sprung the Al Rayyan offside trap before he fired a right-footed shot into the top of the net. Al Rayyan were an improved side after the break and they equalised for the second time in the 58th minute when Tabata’s free-kick from 30 metres took a deflection off Sepahan defender Omranzadeh on its way into the net.

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Esteghlal would go ahead for the third time with an 86th minute penalty. The spot kick was awarded after Hamid Ismaeil had fouled Farzad Hatami in the area and Nekounam made no mistake as he slotted the ball past Barry. But the celebrations of the visitors were cut shot as just a minute later when Nilmar played a quick one-two with Ahmed Alaaeldin before he fired past Mahdi Rahmati from close range.

Despite his team’s late comeback, Al Rayyan coach Diego Aguirre felt that his team could have got more from the match. “The result was disappointing for us as we didn’t perform well in the first half before things improved for us in the second period,” said the Uruguayan. “I’m not happy with the draw but still it is a better result than losing such an important match. Esteghlal have several good strikers and we made some mistakes which helped them to score. We must fix these mistakes in the future and I hope that we can put in a better performance in our forthcoming matches.”

Esteghlal may have thrown away the lead three times but coach Amir Ghalenoei was pleased to see his side gain a point from a tough away match. “I’m satisfied with the performance as the two teams had a big game today,” he said. “The match was exciting because it saw six goals and there were also many missed chances. I believe that it was the most exciting match so far. The result was not fair as we were the better side but we missed many chances and the woodwork denied us on a few occasions. But I believe at the end of the day that we had a good performance and the match was exciting.”