ACL 2018: Esteghlal and Al Ain remain unbeaten [Analysis]

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AFC – TEHRAN, A late strike from outside the box broke Esteghlal’s resilience as they settled for a 1-1 draw against Al Ain in the AFC Champions League Group D on Monday.

Esteghlal maintained a low block to keep their visitors at bay for extended periods of the game, but continued pressure from Al Ain finally delivered an equaliser as the two sides kept an unbeaten record in the competition.

Al Ain take the long line
In the first half, Al Ain relied a great deal on long shots to find a way past a compact Esteghlal defence. Omar Abdulrahman’s 24th minute effort that was saved by goalkeeper Seyed Hosseini was the only shot on target Al Ain mustered all half.

Four of the visitors’ first-half-shots sailed off target while their only attempt from inside the box was blocked by Esteghlal’s unwavering defence.

After the break, Al Ain managed to break into the box on multiple occasions but they found their equalising goal with a shot from outside of the box, when Tsukasa Shiotani curled the ball past the opposition goalkeeper.

Esteghlal defend deep
Al Ain resorted to long shots due to Esteghlal’s ability to cover the central areas and force Al Ain either to strike the ball from long or move to the flanks.

This was a common feature of Al Ain’s play, with strikers Marcus Berg and Ahmed Khalil moving to the flanks in an attempt to draw Esteghlal defenders away from the centre.

However, Esteghlal’s full back and wide midfielder on each flank managed to make 26 recoveries throughout the matchas they prevented Al Ain from crossing the ball into the box with ease. This was evident by the fact that Al Ain made no successful open play crosses in the match, with 14 failed attempts.

Shiotani efficient on the left
Tsukasa Shiotani, a right-footed player who was played at left-back against Esteghlal, played an effective role for Al Ain in breaking through to the final third.

Instead of simply sticking to the flanks in the midfield area such as the right back Mohamed Ahmed did, Shiotani made a variety of runs, overlapping and underlapping the winger and creating very effective combinations to break past Esteghlal’s good flank coverage.

Indeed, Al Ain’s goal came through this movement, when Shiotani received the ball on the flank before combining with Rayan Yslam to move into the central areas and strike to score the equalizer.

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