April 13, 2024
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Esteghlal_Logo_NewAFC – DOHA, Iran’s Esteghlal held onto the lead at the top of the tightly congested Group A table after rallying to earn a 1-1 draw with Al Gharafa in the AFC Champions League on Wednesday.

Iraq striker Younis Mahmoud had opened the scoring at Al Gharafa Stadium in first-half stoppage time as the home side sought revenge for last week’s 3-0 defeat in Tehran.

But Mehdi Seyed Salehi struck for the visitors two minutes before the hour mark as Esteghlal remained a point clear of Al Gharafa with two games remaining with Al Ahli just a further point off the pace after beating Al Jazira 2-0.

After just two minutes Mahmoud tired his luck from distance and was denied by Esteghlal goalkeeper Mohammad Mohammadi.

The visitors had the ball in the Al Gharafa net after 12 minutes after midfielder Fabio Januario broke through home side’s defence, but the strike was ruled out for offside.

Al Gharafa midfielder Juninho, who missed last week’s defeat due to suspension, drifted a free-kick agonisingly past the Esteghlal upright two minutes later as the early chances continued to flow.

As the pace of the contest slowed as the half progressed, Mahmoud was denied by Mohammadi.

A minute before half-time Januario blazed an effort over the head of Al Gharafa goalkeeper Qasem Burhan and the crossbar.

But in stoppage time Mohammadi failed to hold Araujo’s shot and Mahmoud took full advantage to head home from close range to break the deadlock.

Al Gharafa made a bright start to the second half but failed to convert a string of chances into a second goal.

And two minutes before the hour mark as Salehi rose above the Al Gharafa defence to head a chipped cross from midfielder Khosro Heydari past Burhan.

Burhan was called into action to stop the visitors completing the comeback five minutes after the hour mark as the Al Gharafa goalkeeper turned away a speculative strike from Esteghlal captain Farhad Majidi.

Mohammadi was called into action to deny Mahmoud soon after, but after a flourish of goalmouth activity, both side’s appeared to settle for a point in the closing stages.