Neftchi blew a great chance to put one foot in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Iraq’s Al Najaf in their Group C game at Fergana Stadium on Wednesday.
After taking the lead through Akmal Holmatov’s 43rd-minute goal, the team from Uzbekistan were denied a third home victory in this year’s competition thanks to a 60th-minute strike from Ali Amran.
The result means qualification for the last eight will now go down to the final matchday when contenders Neftchi and Al Karama meet in Homs on May 23.
The home side threatened first in the 14th minute when Holmatov’s corner nearly caught out Hadi Jaber but the Al Najaf goalkeeper was alert enough to tip the ball over.
Jaber was again called into action ten minutes later when dead ball specialist Holmatov hit a powerful effort from all of 40 yards but the Al Najaf stopper managed to punch the ball to safety.
Al Najaf’s only chance of the first half came in the 39th minute when Aqeel Gabour swung over a cross from the right flank but Said Ali sent his header over the crossbar.
And The Iraqis’s resistance was finally broken two minutes before the break when Holmatov, who scored the winning goal when the two teams met in Kuwait City last March, made it third time lucky with a well struck free kick from distance that found the left corner.
Al Najaf started the second half the better of the two sides and should have levelled the scores in the 50th minute but Gabour again headed wide, while Karrar Muhamed was denied by Neftchi goalkeeper Gayratjon Hasanov five minutes later.
The visitors eventually equalised on the hour mark when Gabour’s cross from the right edge of the area found the unmarked Ali Amran and he dispatched a fierce right foot drive into the top left corner of Hasanov’s net.
The goal stunned the home side and they lost their way thereafter, although they did come close to snatching a vital three points right at the death.
Holmatov’s corner from the left flank in the second minute of stoppage time was met by striker Anvar Berdiyev but the 29-year-old was denied by the right upright as Neftchi were forced to settle for a draw.