By Sports Reporter/Doha
Michael Laudrup’s begins the difficult quest of taking Al Rayyan past the group stage of the AFC Champions League for the first time when his side meet Iran’s Esteghlal at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium today. The match begins at 6.10pm
The Group D encounter will kickstart Al Rayyan’s eighth campaign in the competition but, despite coming close last year, the Doha team have never advanced to the knockouts.
Al Rayyan scored eight goals in three home games last year, while one of their best performances came in a 3-1 home victory over Esteghlal’s city rivals Persepolis when star man Rodrigo Tabata netted twice.
Esteghlal did manage to make it out of the group stage last year, before a 6-1 defeat to Al Ain in the second leg of the Round of 16 brought their continental dream to an abrupt halt.
The Tehran side have played Al Rayyan six times in the past and have come out on top on four occasions, with the last time being a 2-1 victory in the 2014 group stage.
Laudrup, however, exuded confidence ahead of the match at his press conference yesterday.
“We are looking for a strong start to the tournament. We are well aware that we have not made the last 16 in Asian in our history,” Laudrup told reporters.
The Dane added that Esteghlal are a dangerous side and Al Rayyan can’t afford to take them lightly.
“They are obviously a competent side. We have studied them. They are technically very good and dangerous on the counter-attacks, but we have prepared well.”
Laudrup added that the loss to Al Sadd last week in the QNB Stars League will not play on their minds when they take on their Iranian opponents.
“The only impact the loss will have on us is that it will only motivate us further to improve and prove a point,” said Laudrup.
Esteghlal coach Winfried Schaefer said the match would be tough because both teams have high quality players.
we are aware that Al Rayyan have strong players but we too have players of the highest quality. The match will be followed by lots of fans in both countries and the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.”
Meanwhile, Qatar’s Al Sadd will visit Dubai’s Zabeel Stadium to square off with Al Wasl of the United Arab Emirates for the first time in Group C of the AFC Champions League today.
Having missed out on AFC Champions League qualification after falling at the play-off round in the previous two years, 2011 winners Al Sadd return for the first time since reaching the last 16 in 2015.
The top Qatar team remain the last outfit from West Asia to win the competition, but have won just three of their past 12 games on the continent. Expectation will be high this year, though, as Spanish FIFA World Cup winner Xavi prepares to make his debut in the continental competition.
Al Wasl have only appeared in the competition once before now, back in 2008, when they were eliminated at the group stage.
“We are here to win three points,” Al Sadd coach Jesualdo Ferreira said. “Our players are very motivated and will be fighting hard to win not only this match but also against other teams in the group later.”
Al Sadd won the tournament under coach Jorge Fossati in 2011.
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