News ID: 214660
Published: 0232 GMT May 07, 2018

Esteghlal, Zob Ahan take center stage at all-Iranian ACL knockouts

Esteghlal, Zob Ahan take center stage at all-Iranian ACL knockouts

Just five days after claiming the Iran’s Hazfi Cup title, Esteghlal travels to domestic rival Zob Ahan for the first leg of the 2018 AFC Champions League Round of 16 at Foolad Shahr Stadium on Tuesday.

Mame Thiam scored the only goal of the game as Esteghlal defeated Khooneh be Khooneh to round off its domestic season in style as the Tehran side’s strong recent form, which includes topping Group D with an unbeaten record, continued, reported.

However, the Blues will have to do without their in-form striker as he was pulled off injured before halftime at the domestic cup final.

Esteghlal has now been unbeaten in 15 games in a run that stretches back to early February, when Tuesday’s opponent Zob Ahan secured a 2-1 victory in Isfahan in the Persian Gulf Pro League, before ultimately finishing in second place, a point in front of Esteghlal in third.

On the continent, meanwhile, Zob Ahan finished as Group B runner-up after a 1-1 Matchday Six draw with Lokomotiv ensured the Iranian club qualified ahead of the Uzbek side by virtue of a better head-to-head record.

The 2010 runner-up Zob Ahan is competing in the last 16 for the second time in three years but has not been beyond this stage since 2011. Esteghlal, which has Omid Ebrahimi and Roozbeh Cheshmi available after suspension, last progressed beyond this stage in 2013 when it reached the semifinals.


‘New and improved’


There will be no repeat of the last 16 heartbreak 12 months ago, according to Uzbek star midfielder Server Djeparov, when Esteghlal faces compatriot Zob Ahan.

Iranian giant Esteghlal reached the knockout stage in the 2017 edition of the continental competition and, despite winning the first leg against Al Ain 1-0, would crash out of the competition in dramatic fashion after a comprehensive 6-1 defeat in the UAE.

A year later, the Tehran powerhouse is once again at the same stage, this time against the Isfahan-based side, but the two-time AFC Player of the Year Djeparov is confident lightning won’t strike twice.

“Last year our team was different, we’ve completed changed this year,” said Uzbekistan’s most capped player.

“A new coach, new players, we have a great side and I think we will get past the Round of 16 of the AFC Champions League this time.”

The midfielder also stressed the importance of experienced coach Winnie Schafer to the team’s fine recent run.

“Coach Winnie Schafer is a German, and his style of football reflects that,” added Djeparov.

“He is a very tactical coach and we play a technical game with many combinations across the pitch.

“He is also very good communicator; he talks with each player individually and helps us grow together as a team. You can see in our results the effect he has had.”


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