Persepolis Will Rely on Ali Alipour: AFC
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Persepolis striker Ali Alipour started his 2018 AFC Champions League campaign in style and his side will rely on him to replicate his league form on the continental stage to fire them to glory.
Persepolis’ run to the 2017 AFC Champions League semi-final introduced Asian football fans to striker Mehdi Taremi who finished the campaign with seven goals, a tally bettered only by Al-Hilal’s Omar Khrbin and Brazilian duo Rafael Silva and Hulk.
But by January 2018, Taremi had departed for Qatar, joining Al Gharafa on an 18-month deal. With a transfer ban in place on Persepolis, the Tehran-based side had to find a replacement from within as it looked to mount a title defense on the domestic front, as well as a second consecutive continental challenge.
Ali Alipour had started six games in last season’s AFC Champions League, scoring once in the second leg of the quarter-final against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli, but coach Branko Ivankovic saw in the 23-year-old the man to replace Taremi in his attack.
Two years Taremi’s junior and six centimeters shorter, Alipour is a different type of player. He relies more on pace and intelligent movement to create space, as opposed to Taremi’s more traditional center-forward style which favors physicality and aerial challenges.
The Croatian’s faith in his number 70 paid huge dividends as Alipour has blossomed this season to score 17 league goals, more than his entire career’s combined tally since making his Iran Pro League debut with Rah Ahan in 2013, the-afc.com reported.
Alipour’s goals have fired Persepolis to a comfortable 16-point gap at the top of the league, needing just one victory from its remaining six matches to be crowned champion for the 11th time in its history.
With the league title virtually wrapped up, the Red Army turned its attention to the AFC Champions League, where Ivankovic had vowed to better last year’s final-four finish. Persepolis’ task is not easy, having been drawn against Qatar’s Al Sadd, UAE’s Al Wasl and Uzbekistan’s Nasaf in Group C.
The Iranian champion started their campaign emphatically with a 3-0 win over Nasaf at Azadi Stadium, and Alipour made his intentions clear with a second-half brace that demonstrated his versatility; the first a cute finish from inside the six-yard box after finding space behind the Uzbek defense to meet a cross from the right, and the second a well-struck effort with his weaker left foot after arriving late into the box.
On Matchday Two, Persepolis suffered a reversal in Doha after it was consigned to a 3-1 defeat by Al Sadd in a game where Alipour failed to add to his tally. Despite the defeat, Brankovic’s men remain second in the group, and a home win in its next fixture against Al Wasl can put the team firmly on track to secure one of the two qualification spots to the round of 16.
Alipour will be looking to emulate Taremi’s seven-goal exploits in 2017, and he may at some point find himself head-to-head with the man he replaced as the side’s primary goal getter.