News ID: 233390
Published: 0356 GMT October 26, 2018

Analysis: How compact Persepolis squeezes through to ACL final

Analysis: How compact Persepolis squeezes through to ACL final

Iranian Persian Gulf Pro League club Persepolis booked its place in the 2018 AFC Champions League (ACL) final after a 1-1 draw against Al Sadd gave them a 2-1 aggregate victory thanks to another disciplined display at Azadi Stadium in Tehran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran side came into the match with a 1-0 lead from the first leg in Doha, and despite conceding 16 minutes into the game, it kept its composure, remaining disciplined and retaliating through Siamak Nemati's 49th minute strike which was enough to send the team into the final, reported.


Compact midfield smothers Al Sadd


Branko Ivankovic set up his team in a 4-4-2 formation with the central midfield duo of Kamal Kamyabinia and Bashar Resan flanked by Siamak Nemati and Ahmed Nourollahi.

That was at least the set up on paper, but in practice both Nemati and Nourollahi tucked in deeper, creating a tighter unit in the middle of the park that helped Persepolis counter the threat of Al Sadd’s technically gifted midfield that included the likes of Xavi, Gabi and Jung Woo-young.

Ivankovic’s plan was largely successful in limiting the threat Al Sadd posed from midfield, as the above trio only made six passes into Persepolis penalty box all night.


Brilliant Beiranvand


With four minutes till the final whistle, Jung Woo-young sent a perfectly weighted cross from the left to the advancing Xavi who had found a pocket of space inside Persepolis box. The Spaniard connected with the header and half the stadium thought he had scored.


Persepolis’ goalie Beiranvand, however, produced a top drawer save to deny Al Sadd a late winner. The save epitomized the IR Iran international goalkeeper’s performance on the night.

Despite the early strike from Baghdad Bounedjah, Beiranvand was present throughout whenever Al Sadd managed to get past Persepolis’ tight defense. He made four saves and two clearances to help his side reach the final.


Afif Neutralized


Ivankovic deployed Shoja Khalilzadeh, traditionally a center-back, at right-back to counter the threat of Afram Afif, with captain Jalal Hosseini in support as the right sided central defender.

The double act was largely successful in neutralizing one of Al Sadd’s key attacking outlets. The Qatari international’s passing accuracy was 75 percent, a significant drop from his competition average of 81 percent. That percentage dropped to 65 percent in opposition half, again well below his average of 73 percent.


A victory for Iran


After the match, the president of the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI), Mehdi Taj, hailed Persepolis reaching the 2018 ACL final as a triumph for Iranian football.

The FFIRI president visited the Persepolis dressing room after the match and congratulated the players for their achievement.

"I believe that all the Iranian people are happy because the team reached the final. Today, Iran reached the Champions League final, not just Persepolis.

“I hope that this happiness will continue and the team will go for the championship. Today, 80 million Iranians are happy, and that's why I went to the dressing room and thanked the players.”

Persepolis will face Kashima Antlers, which edged Suwon Bluewings 6-5 on aggregate, in the two-legged final on November 3 and 10, with the second leg to be played at the Azadi Stadium.


Nemati: We can become ACL champions


Nemati said the ACL trophy could at last end up in Iranian hands as Persepolis gets set to take to the final for the first time following its Tuesday victory.

Nemati was the hero at Azadi Stadium on Tuesday as the midfielder volleyed home an equalizer early in the second half to level the scores at 1-1 on the night and.

His strike proved enough to secure a place in the final against Kashima Antlers.

Persepolis will be the first Iranian team to appear in the final after the other Persian Gulf Pro League team Zob Ahan Esfahan reached the same stage in 2010.

Iran’s Sepahan also played in the showpiece event in 2007, but both sides suffered defeats and, with the competition now in its 16th edition, Iran is still seeking its first title.

“This season, everybody thought that Persepolis would be much weaker than last year, but this team continues to show in difficult situations they work even harder together,” said Nemati.

“I hope we can go on to beat a team from the east of Asia to add to all the teams we’ve beaten from the west.

“I think it’s now a couple of decades since an Iranian side has been champions of Asia. But I think this year could be the time and it can be our gift to the people.”

Persepolis reached the semifinals for the first time in 2017 before losing to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, but have been even more impressive this time round, with a string of fightbacks in the knockout rounds in the story of their campaign.

Comeback wins over the UAE’s Al Jazira and Qatar’s Al Duhail showed just how strong Ivankovic’s side is at Azadi Stadium.

The Tehran giant will now aim to become the first team from the West to lift the trophy since Al Sadd in 2011.

“We have had matches with a similar atmosphere but this one was something different,” said Nemati of his semifinal experience at the famed venue.

“We are used to getting amazing support from these fans, but even we were surprised, and it must have been horrible for Al Sadd.

“I don’t know how to describe the moment [of scoring], I was out of control. I was so happy when I saw everyone cheering.

“I have never experienced anything like this before, but it’s a really good feeling and I know all Iranians are happy. But it’s not finished, we still need their support in the final.”


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