RODRIGO Tabata proved once again that age was just a number as he turned in an inspiring performance to help Al Rayyan rally to a 3-1 win over Iranian league leaders Persepolis in their AFC Champions League Group D match at the Al Sadd Stadium on Tuesday.
The 36-year-old captain and playmaker, who last week extended his contract with the Lions until 2020, scored one apiece on either half and set up Sergio Garcia with a fine free-kick to volley home the third as they bounced back after falling behind to Mehdi Taremi’s sixth-minute goal.
The second win from three games took Rayyan to top of the group and gave them the much-needed edge ahead of the Tehran leg, to be played at the Azadi Stadium on April 10.
“To win 3-1 against a very good team, who’re currently No.1 in Iran and consist of some really good players, wasn’t easy. It showed the quality and spirit of our team,” said Rayyan coach Michael Laudrup.
It looked a different story at the start when Persepolis took the lead through Taremi, who evaded Rayyan’s offside trap and drove home the ball from close. It shook the hosts, who invited more pressure after their full-backs remained hesitant in going forward.
“When you receive a goal so early against a strong team, it’ll definitely put you on the back foot,” said Laudrup.
His men needed a goal to regain confidence and they found it through Tabata in the 19th.
Garcia, who did well to escape the attention of Sadegh Moharrami and Mosen Mosalman on the left, picked out Tabata with a perfect cross and the Brazil-born Qatar international chested down the ball, beat his marker with a fine turn and drilled in a left-footer.
It spread cheer among the sizeable Rayyan supporters as they egged the team on, but Persepolis came hard at them. It took some fine work by the defence to stop the visitors, with goalkeeper Omar Barry making a stunning save to deny Hossen Mahini just before half-time.
Rayyan looked more confident on resumption and went up through Tabata in the 58th. Persepolis captain Jalal Hosseini, a former Al Ahli defender, brought down Sebastian Soria in the box in an effort to thwart a quick Rayyan counter-attack and Tabata slotted home the resultant penalty.
Persepolis continued to exert pressure, but Rayyan killed the game in the 88th through Garcia, who connected a dipping Tabata free-kick he himself had won.
Tabata sounded happy with the win and his performance.
“I feel I’m still young and can offer a lot more to the club. I’m happy going to the trainings and gym, and putting in a lot of efforts. I think my performances are results of that,” said Tabata, who was decisive in a game that Laudrup said was dominated by rivals.
Persepolis coach Branko Ivankovic said Rayyan’s players were smarter in putting their experience to good use. And Tabata’s performance underlined his words.