Iran’s Esteghlal Hopes to Reach ACL Semis: AFC
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Iran's Esteghlal hopes to reach the AFC Champions League semifinals for the second time in its history when it hosts 2011 champion Al Sadd in the first leg of the quarterfinals on Monday.
The match has been scheduled to take place at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
Al Sadd and Esteghlal faced each other last year in the play-off and it was Esteghlal who knocked out its opponent on penalties to reach the group stage, the-afc.com wrote.
Both sides have lifted the Asian Club Championship, Al Sadd in 1989 and Esteghlal two years later. But since the inception of the AFC Champions League, Esteghlal's best performance was reaching the semifinals in 2013, while Al Sadd was the last West Asian champion, lifting the trophy in 2011.
Esteghlal dominated Group D, going unbeaten in all six games to finish top of the group, ahead of Al Ain, Al Rayyan and Al Hilal.
A late equalizer got Winfried Schäfer's men up to a good start away against Al Rayyan, but the highlight of their group performances was doing the double against 2017 runners-up Al Hilal.
In the round of 16, Esteghlal was handed an all-Iranian affair against Zobahan. The 2010 finalist won the first leg at home through a stoppage time penalty that was converted by Georgian defender Giorgi Gvelesiani.
A week later at Azadi Stadium, Senegalese striker Mame Baba Thiam bagged a hat-trick as Esteghlal romped to a 3-1 victory to book a date with Al Sadd in the last eight.
Al Sadd was drawn in Group C with Esteghlal's rivals, Persepolis, and despite firing 11 goals - more than any team in the group - they only managed to finish second behind Persepolis, having lost its final group game in Tehran 0-1.
Braces from Baghdad Bounedjah in the first two games were the highlight of the group campaign as Al Sadd overcame Uzbekistan's Nasaf and Persepolis, and the Algerian got his third brace in a 2-1 win against UAE's Al Wasl.
Even at the age of 38, midfield maestro Xavi continues to dominate the middle of the park for Al Sadd. Only two players in the competition, Oscar and Ricardo Goulart, created more chances than the Spaniard's 22.
Xavi defense splitting passes have set up three goals, but his ball retention has been equally impressive. Only two midfielders have a higher pass accuracy than his 90 percent among those with 100 passes or more in the competition.