Iranian giants Persepolis broke Al Duhail’s sequence of nine straight victories to storm into the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League with a stirring come-from-behind 3-2 aggregate win yesterday.
Trailing 1-0 after the first leg and then conceding a 33rd minute goal they scored three goals after the break to take the second leg 3-1.
Qatar Stars League champions Al Duhail had been relentless in their campaign, winning all their previous nine matches right from the group stage before suffering their only defeat.
Had they won, they would have set an AFC Champions League record of 10 consecutive victories, overtaking Ulsan Hyundai’s nine set during the 2012 season when the Korean side won the title
Al Duhail went ahead, somewhat luckily, through Karim Boudiaf after Persepolis defender Shojae Khalilzadeh’s attempted clearance from a free-kick bounced off the former’s back and into the net.
Both teams failed to come up with a goal-worthy move for the remaining part of the first half, but the pace picked up in the second ring which the hosts were clearly the better side.
In the 56th minute, Bashar Resan’s effort from the edge of the box was tipped away by Al Duhail goalkeeper Amine Lecomte although the resulting corner produced the equaliser.
The cross saw the ball bounce off the heads of Godwin Mensha and Ali Alipour and fall perfectly for captain Seyed Jalal Hossein to volley home from close, much to the joy of the near capacity crowd.
Persepolis went ahead in the 76th minute when Alipour shook off the defence and shot goalward, forcing Sultan al-Brake to attempt a last-ditch clearance from the line which unfortunately sent the ball into the net.
By this time the crowd were on their feet and Persepolis didn’t have to wait long for the crucial third goal.
Nigerian Mensha, one of their stalwarts in their current campaign, latched on to a long clearance from Alireza Beiranvand and left two defenders chasing shadows before dribbling past goalkeeper Lecomte and nudging the ball in with a simple finish.
Qatar’s other team in the quarter-finals, Al Sadd were playing a late match against Iran’s Esteghlal in Doha, after winning the first leg 3-1.
“We were never out of the match even when we were a goal down,” said Persepolis coach Branko Ivankovic.
“We knew it was all about keeping our calm and playing our best game,” he added.
Al Duhail coach Nabil Maaloul lamented his team’s missed chances.
“We had a great opportunity to enter the semi-finals for the first time but we missed it. In retrospect we should have scored more goals during our home match in Doha,” he added.
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