In the most unlikely of circumstances, Al Jazira’s AFC Champions League campaign has had life breathed into it.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi seemed set for a third-successive Group C loss without scoring a goal after a masterclass from Middle Eastern royalty Al Hilal.
Few chances and little hope remained as the clock ticked past 90 minutes. A knockout blow was only seconds away as they stared at a 1-0 defeat.
But from out of nowhere, UAE centre-back Fares Juma headed in a hopeful punt to secure a golden point.
Dutch boss Henk ten Cate and his staff erupted from the technical area. They knew this could be a turning point in an otherwise-miserable campaign for Jazira.
Cheered on by thousands of fevered travelling supporters who painted the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium blue, the Crescent had previously created a remarkably one-sided match.
It felt even more unbalanced than the 4-0 embarrassment against Iran’s Tractor Sazi which opened the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s pool-stage commitments.
Striker Ailton ruthlessly profited from a critical slip from right-back Saif Rashid to slot in after just 10 minutes. It could have been more – this was one of three glaring early chances for the Brazilian – had they wanted to flamboyantly exhibit the chasm between these clubs.
Giorgos Donis’ men chose omnipotent control instead.
This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Jazira are a distant seventh in the Arabian Gulf League, after all.
But their approach would be punished.
Playmaker Thiago Neves was one of the rare bright spots during a first meeting with the team who sold him for €11 million (Dh44.9m) in the summer after 104 appearances during two spells in blue.
It was noticeable so few of his team-mates were capable of matching the level of a player who required a late fitness test to feature. Not that they’ll care after this last-gasp salvage job.
A poor start was ruthlessly exploited by Hilal. Rashid’s slip under pressure from the outstanding Al Shahrani allowed Ailton to burst past Musallem Fayez, his low effort rocketing past stand-in goalkeeper Khalid Al Senaani for his fourth goal in six ACL appearances.
This was bookmarked by two headers he really should have converted.
Veteran South Korea centre-back Kwak Tae-hwi then rattled the base of the post from a corner during a half in which a fumble from goalkeeper Khalid Sharahili provided the only opportunity for the hosts.
Effervescent youngster Khalfan Mubarak sparked into life for Henk ten Cate’s side after the interval. But the attacking midfielder’s probing went without reward, during a period in which out-of-sorts 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Ali Mabkhout limped off injured.
A late push saw Green Falcons stopper Sharahili race out to smother Neves’ half-volley and substitute Kenwyne Jones’ swivelled effort.
Parity seemed a distant dream before Sultan Al Suwaidi’s hopeful ball from the back picked out Juma, whose neat header trickled into the bottom corner to spark riotous scenes on the Jazira bench.
The Crescent’s last trip to the UAE saw them leave distraught after Kwon Kyung-won’s injury-time goal earned Al Ahli a spot in the 2015 final at their expense.
This wasn’t quite as painful, but this will have still stung. The joy was all Jazira’s.
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