0417 GMT June 21, 2021
Rasoul Khatibi believes his team’s fighting spirit was the key factor in beating Iraq’s Air Force Club 1-0 in Group B of the AFC Champions League.
Mehdi Tikdari’s second-minute strike, the fastest of the 2021 season, made the difference at the final whistle on Friday as the Iranian side claimed a first victory in the group after three consecutive draws.
Air Force Club had to play with 10 men for the better part of the game after Maytham Jabbar received his marching orders in the 38th minute.
The victory saw Tractor stand second in the group, trailing the UAE’s Sharjah by two points, with the Uzbek giant Pakhtakor, which settled for a 1-1 draw against the Emirati side later in the day, in the third place on three points.
“We hadn’t won in our previous three games,” said Khatibi. “But before this game I told my players if we keep fighting and try hard, we will eventually get the win.
"I would have preferred if Air Force Club had not lost a man to a red card, because after the red card they all doubled their efforts to compensate for it.
“We had to keep some players out to inject new energy and freshness into the team and I hope we can have a similar approach in the next game. This match is now behind us and from this second on, we turn our attention to the next one.”
Up next for the Persian Gulf Pro League side is a massive encounter against Pakhtakor on Monday, before a final-day clash with the group host Sharjah three days later.
Two wins will secure a place in the knockouts for Tractor, as only three of the five West Zone groups’ runners-up will advance to the next round.
The-afc.com contributed to the report.