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Soccer-Naft erase title disappointment with important win in ACL

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May 21 (Reuters) - Iran forward Gholamreza Rezaei erased any despair Naft Tehran had of missing their first Persian Gulf Pro League title last week with a 1-0 victory over Al-Ahli in the Asian Champions League round of 16 first leg clash on Wednesday.

Naft were pipped for their first Iranian league title last Friday when they battled back from a two-goal deficit to snatch a 3-3 draw with Tractor Sazi but lost the title to Sepahan, who leapfrogged both Naft and Tractor with a 2-0 win over Sapia.

Rezaei, however, went a little way to erasing those memories when he finished off a strong surge from midfielder Hossein Ebrahimi in the 34th minute of the clash at Azadi Stadium in Tehran.

The home side dominated against the Saudis but were unable to convert their numerous chances with Rezaei dragging his shot wide in the 65th minute, just after Al-Ahli goalkeeper Abdullah Al Muaiouf had thwarted Saeid Lotfi.

Al Muaiouf ensured his side were still alive in the tie with the second leg in Jeddah next week when he pushed a curling free-kick from Iman Mobali onto the post with 12 minutes remaining, something Naft coach Alireza Mansourian was aware of.

"I'm happy with the result but not my players' performance in the second half," Mansourian told the AFC website. "Iman Mobali and Arsalan Motahari should have converted their chances so we could go to (Jeddah) with more goals."

Dubai's Al-Ahli appeared lacklustre in their scrappy clash against fellow Emirati side Al Ain in the other Western region match on Wednesday.

Neither side were truly able to stamp their authority on the game at Rashid Stadium, though Al-Ahli tested Khalid Eisa a few times throughout with their best chance in the 74th minute when Ismail Al Hammadi's shot beat Eisa only to shave the crossbar.

The second leg is at King Abdullah Stadium in Al Ain next Wednesday, with Al-Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu lamenting the lack of penetration.

"We had a good start in the first 20 minutes and had some scoring chances," he said. "(But) the performance dropped in the second half as the players were affected by the hot weather.

"The good thing is that we didn't allow our opponents to create many chances in the second half and we kept a clean sheet." (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Justin Palmer)

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