Iranian clubs Persepolis and Esteghlal will face their Qatari opponents in the second leg of the quarterfinals at the AFC Champions League today, hoping to overturn first-leg defeats.
Iranian Reds host Al Duhail in an expectedly full-packed Azadi Stadium after a sole first-half Almoez Ali's header gave the Qataris a 1-0 – a record-equaling ninth win in the competition – at home two weeks ago.
Having already kept five clean sheets in the current edition of the tournament, Branko Ivankovic hopes his team can build on it solid defensive display to turn things around in Tehran.
However, after conceding seven goals in last three fixtures, Persepolis fans will be hoping for significant improvement today.
Having lost several key players such as Vahid Amiri, Sadeq Moharrami and Farshad Ahmadzadeh – who pursued European careers – this season, Ivankovic is eager to prove his current squad is still among the best in the continent by taking it to a second consecutive semifinal.
The reigning Qatar Stars League champion has averaged an impressive 2.5 goals per match on the road this term and an away goal in Tehran could be just what the Qataris need to reach the last four.
With Youssef Msakni still sidelined due to a cruciate ligament injury, Brazilian-Belgian Edmilson joined in the summer from Standard Liege.
The 24-year-old winger marked his Champions League debut by setting up Ali's headed goal, and he will be expected to play a key role behind striker Youssef al-Arabi alongside Ali and Korea Republic playmaker Nam Tae-hee.
Esteghlal, meanwhile will have a mountain to climb at Doha’s Jassam bin Hamad Stadium when taking on a Xavi-inspired Al Sadd.
Blues’ hopes of reaching the semifinal for the first time since 2013 were significantly shattered at the end of August, as they fell to a 3-1 home defeat against the former Barcelona man’s teammates.
A Baghdad Bounedjah’s double after Akram Afif’s equalizer in the space of 15 minutes in the second half at the Azadi Stadium canceled out a first-half unfortunate own goal by Boualem Khoukhi, putting the 2011 champion well on its way to the semis.
Winfried Schafer – like Ivancovic – had to start the new season without the departing stars, namely, Omid Ebrahimi, Server Djeparov and Mame Baba Thiam and newcomers are yet to hit the ground running.
Morteza Tabrizi – who joined Esteghlal from Zob Ahan – has already scored four in eight appearances in Zob Ahan colors in the current campaign, and it will be down to Schafer to get the best out of his new striker.
Al Sadd is enjoying the start of its domestic 2018/19 season, with Spanish midfielder Gabi arriving to link up with compatriot Xavi in the middle of the park. The duo showed a combination of creativity and grit as the Qatari side enjoyed a comfortable victory in the first leg.