Sharjah players celebrate after victory against Air Force Club of Iraq in their AFC Champions League match.
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
United Arab Emirates’ Sharjah FC qualified to the knock-out stage for the first time in 17 years after beating Iraq’s Air Force Club 3-2 on Matchday Five of the 2021 AFC Champions League Group B on Monday.
The first chance of the game fell Air Force Club’s way after 12 minutes as skipper Humam Tareq looked to pounce on a poor defensive clearance but scuffed his shot on the volley, sending it wide.
Three minutes later, the Iraqis final broke their 2021 AFC Champions League duck as Jefferson Collazos marked his full continental debut with a goal. The Colombian striker was fastest to react after goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani saved Ibrahim Bayesh’s initial effort, poking home from point blank to put Air Force Club in the lead.
Sharjah nearly equalised instantly as the ball fell to striker Salem Saleh inside the box, but Iraqi international defender Ahmed Ibrahim produced a last-ditch tackle to stop Salem Saleh as he looked to pull the trigger.
Defender Ali Kadhim lost possession as he looked to find a teammate, instead allowing Sharjah’s Khalid Bawazir to take possession inside the box and rifle in the equaliser in the 25th minute.
Ten minutes later, Bawazir turned from scorer to creator, capping a quick counter-attacking move with a fine dinked pass into the path of Saleh who connected perfectly on the half-volley, hammering home his second goal of the campaign and his side’s second on the night.
Both sides came onto the pitch eager for more goals after the break, and it was Air Force Club who got their goal first within seven minutes of resumption of play. Shareef Abdulkadhim split the Sharjah defence with a cute through ball and Collazos kept his composure to apply the finish from close range to get his brace.
Just as the Colombian did, Sharjah’s own striker Saleh was determined to make it two for himself and he did so at the hour mark, rising unopposed to head Ali Al Dhanhani’s cross into the back of the net to restore the Emirati side’s lead.
Coach Abdulaziz Al Anbari’s men move four points clear of their nearest chasers with a game to go, securing the top spot in the group and a place in the knock-out stage for the first time since 2004.
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