Nasaf hold Esteghlal to keep finals dream alive

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Ahmed Momenzadeh (R) of Iran's Esteglal club gets the ball before Uzbekistan's Nasaf Karsi defender, Bottir Namazov (L)

Nasaf Karsi's dreams of following in the footsteps of 1994 Asian Club Championship semi-finalists Nefitichi were kept alive when the Uzbek side held Iranian giants Esteghlal to a 1-1 draw in their second match of the 2002 Asian Club Championship Quarter-Finals West.

"I am very pleased with the result as we are here just to get experience of this level of match," said Nasaf coach Bakhrom Khakimov. "Esteghlal are a very big team, a strong team and to be honest we are concentrating on preparing for the Uzbekistan league."

The early moments of the first half suggested it would be a long day for the Nasaf back-four as Esteghlal laid siege to Petr Gizimchuck's goal, with headers from Mahdi Hasheminasab and Ahmad Momenzadeh nearly opening the scoring.

While it took a good six minutes for the Uzbeks to make their first meaningful venture into their opponents half they soon settled. As the defence was providing a seemingly impassable red wall for Tehran's 'Blues', Nasaf's frontline was looking increasingly dangerous on the counterattack.

Khakimov's side proved their threat going forward when veteran striker Zafar Kholmuradov almost scored with a diving header in the 24th minute.

Nasaf were growing in confidence and were rewarded for their efforts four minutes later when they capitalized on a defensive error from the usually dependable Hasheminasab.

Indecision from the former Pirouzi defender gave away possession to Shoohrat Toshpolatov, who charged past 'keeper Seyed Tabatabaei and bundled the ball into the net.

Sirus Din Mohammad (C) and Ahmed Momenzadeh (R) of Iran's Esteglal club vie for the ball with Uzbakistan's Nasaf Karsi defender Bahromjon Haydarov (L)

Esteghlal coach Mansour Pourheidari - who is aiming for his third Asian Club Championship winner's medal with the Tehran side after winning as a player in 1970 (when they were known as Taj) and as a coach in 1990 - expressed his disappointment at the way his players were resting on their laurels after their stunning 5-3 victory over Al Wahda on Wednesday.

"Our players played more emotionally than logically because they thought that after the win over Al Wahda they thought they are through to the finals," he said.

"I was not satisfied with the way we played but I most congratulate the Uzbeks as to be honest they were much better than us."

After letting Nasaf go in to the break with the goal advantage, Pourheidari's half-time team talk certainly fired up his players, who came agonisingly close three times after the restart before equalising in the 58th minute.

Alireza Vahedinikbakht leapt highest in a crowded penalty box and beat Gizimchuck with a superb angled header from Mojahed Khaziravi's corner.

Esteghlal continued to turn the screw but Nasaf refused to buckle under incessant Iranian pressure and held out for a well-deserved point.

Nasaf's qualification for the Asian Club Championship semi-finals will now come down to their clash with hosts Al Wahda in the final Quarter-Final West match on Sunday.

Ahmed Momenzadeh (R) of Iran's Esteglal club fights for the ball with Uzbekistan's Nasaf Karsi defender, Bottir Namazov (L)


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