AFC - A wasteful Esteghlal side were made to rue missed chances as they fell to Iran Pro League rivals Zobahan 1-0 in Tuesday's AFC Champions League Round of 16 first leg.
Not content with pipping Esteghlal to second place in the domestic league table this season, Zobahan capitalised on the visitors profligacy to claim a crucial home win – and a clean sheet – ahead of the return fixture in a week’s time.
Esteghlal fail to make dominance count
Despite playing away from home, Esteghlal managed to pin back their opponents for the majority of the encounter, holding about 60 percent of the possession and attempting 46 percent more passes than their opponents. They also had a significantly higher pass accuracy than Zobahan, both overall and in the opposition half.
The hosts, meanwhile, attempted just eight crosses throughout the match, completing only one, while Esteghlal players found a teammate six times from 16 attempted crosses.
In the end, however, Zobahan led their opponents in two crucial stats: shots on target (five to two) and the all-important goals scored (one to zero).
Mixed fortunes for midfield generals
With Esteghlal hoarding the ball for long periods throughout the match, it was only natural that Omid Ebrahimi would have time to shine in the midfield battle against Zobahan’s utility man Giorgi Gvelesiani, who started in the middle of the park on Tuesday. The result was Ebrahimi attempting almost twice as many passes as his counterpart, with a much higher passing accuracy rate.
Ebrahimi also created a shooting opportunity for teammate Server Djeparov midway through the second half, but the latter blasted his shot wide from the edge of the area.
Rouzbeh Cheshmi’s handball inside his own area in added time rendered all of these efforts meaningless, and when called upon to make the difference, Gvelesiani calmly stepped up to score from the spot and snatch a vital win for his team.
Nejadmahdi's suspension a cause for concern
Despite being his side’s best defender on the night, Mohammad Nejadmahdi ended the night on a low, as he picked up a second yellow card in the 90th minute. The central defender must have sighed in relief then, when the final whistle blew with Zobahan’s clean sheet intact, and more importantly, with a home win in the bag ahead of the second leg.
Nejadmahdi played all 90 minutes in all but two of Zobahan’s Iran Pro League matches this season, as well as all eight of their 2018 AFC Champions League matches to date.
The 25-year-old's presence will be sorely missed, and it remains to be seen how manager Amir Ghalenoei will deal will the his absence next week.
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