0153 GMT February 17, 2020
Iran’s Esteghlal and Shahr Khodro hope to get off to a flying start at the 2020 AFC Champions League (ACL) group stage today.
Farhad Majidi’s Blues play away to Iraq’s Al Shorta in Group A in Erbil’s Franso Hariri Stadium while in Group B Shahr Khodro squares off against defending champion Al Hilal in the neutral venue of Al Wasl Stadium in Dubai, the UAE.
Both Iranian sides had to dig through qualifiers to secure their places in the group phase. Esteghlal thrashed Qatar’s Al Rayyan 5-0 in Doha after beating Kuwait SC 3-0.
Shahr Khodro, meanwhile, overcame Bahraini side Al Riffa 2-1 and then went on to beat Al Sailiya of Qatar in the shootouts for a spot in the groups.
Esteghlal heads into today’s game on the back of an impressive run of results under new manager Majidi.
Following victories in the ACL qualifiers, Esteghlal beat Naft Masjed Soleyman 2-1 before settling for a 2-2 draw against archrival Persepolis in the Tehran derby last Thursday.
Tehran Blues will still have to do without prolific striker Cheick Diabaté – who is out injured – however Amir-Arsalan Motahari filled in for the Malian in their last outing when he scored a double in the derby.
Elsewhere in Group A, Al Wahda of the UAE hosts Saudi side Al Ahli.
Shahr Khodro will hope to bounce back from a 2-0 away defeat against Foolad Khuzestan in the Persian Gulf Pro League when playing Al Hilal – which beat Al Raed 3-1 in the Saudi Professional League last Wednesday and sits atop the Saudi league table.
The other match in Group B sees Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor playing Emirati side Shabab Al Ahli Dubai in Tashkent.
Two other Iranian sides Persepolis and Sepahan will start their campaign on Tuesday.
In Group C, Persepolis will face Qatari league leader Al Duhail in Doha with Sepahan taking on Al Ain FC in the UAE in Group D.