Qatar’s Al Sailiya suffered a heartbreaking loss to Iran’s Shahr Khodro in penalties in the AFC Champions League playoff match at the Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium yesterday. A win would have taken Sailiya to group stage, but the hosts lost 4-5 in a penalty shootout after a scoreless draw in regulation time.
Goalkeeper Mahdi Rahmati was the hero for Shahr Khodro, producing a brilliant shootout save to deny countryman Karim Ansarifard before Saeid Sadeghi struck the decisive blow after more than 120 minutes of hard-fought action. Shahr Khodro’s success means there will be four Iranian clubs in the group stage, while Al Sailiya will need to wait at least a year longer for their maiden taste of continental group stage football.
With both sides vying for a first-ever group stage berth, there was a unanimous desire to gain an early advantage, but despite several bright attacking moments there would be no breakthrough in the first half.
Shahr Khodro were aiming to become the 13th club from Iran to reach the group stage, but it was Team Melli forward Karim Ansarifard who emerged as one of the biggest barriers to their progression, particularly when the Al Sailiya forward rattled the side netting 10 minutes before half-time.
But chances came at both ends, and Shahr Khodro’s Mohammad Hossein was somewhat unfortunate to see his goal bound effort blocked after a spill from Al Sailiya goalkeeper Khalifa Ababacar, who produced a more convincing moment when he batted away a long-range Amin Ghaseminejad strike just before half-time.
The hosts came out firing after the break, with Mahir Yusuf drawing a fine near post save from Rahmati in the 52nd minute, before Ansarifard struck the crossbar shortly after. But despite those near misses, the decisive goal failed to materialise, giving each side 30 minutes of extra-time to decide their AFC Champions League destiny.
For the second time on the night, it was Hossein who found himself on the end of the one of Shahr Khodro’s best chances, but this time he headed wide from eight yards, with the remaining minutes of the extra period providing few clear cut opportunities.
After 120 scoreless minutes, both sides found their shooting boots from the penalty spot, but Rahmati stopped Ansarifard’s effort to give his side the crucial advantage, before Sadeghi drove home the winner to spark wild celebrations among the Shahr Khodro bench.
With a place in the tournament proper achieved, the Mashad-based side will begin their Group B campaign against reigning champions Al Hilal SFC, in a group which also contains Pakhtakor and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai.
Esteghlal rout Rayyan
In another match, Iran’s Esteghlal FC cruised to a 5-0 victory over Qatar’s Al Rayyan at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium yesterday to book their place in the 2020 AFC Champions League group stage. Esteghlal had arrived to the play-off stage on the back of a 3-0 win over Kuwait SC in the second preliminary round, while Al Rayyan were kicking-off their campaign at this stage on home soil after finishing fourth in the 2018-19 QNB Stars League season.
The visitors needed just nine minutes to take the lead. Vorya Ghafouri and Cheick Diabate had between them scored all of Esteghlal’s three goals in the previous round, and on the occasion their combination produced the opener.
Ghafouri beat the Al Rayyan wall and the goalkeeper with a well-struck free-kick from 25 yards, but his shot ricocheted off the upright and into the path of Diabate who controlled and hammered the rebound into the back of the net. Five minutes before the break. Diabate turned from scorer to provider. The Malian striker broke free on the counter and crossed for Mehdi Ghaedi whose looped header nestled into the far corner of goalkeeper Fahad Younis to send Esteghlal into the break with a two-goal lead.
The same pattern continued after the restart with the visitors dominating. Al Rayyan defence failed to deal with a Hrvoje Milic cross, allowing the ball to fall for Ghaedi inside the box and the Esteghlal number 10 composedly fired home his side’s third of the night in the 47th minute.
Substitute Amir Arsalan Motahari added his name to the scoresheet with seven minutes to go. The striker received Ghafouri’s cross at the edge of the area and drove home Esteghlal’s fourth goal despite Younis’ desperate attempts to save.
Just before the final whistle, Motahari rounded off the scoring in a similar fashion following a cross from Arash Rezavand to make it 5-0. Esteghlal progress to take their place in Group A of the 2020 AFC Champions League alongside UAE’s Al Wahda, Iraq’s Al Shorta and the winner of the second play-off match between Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli and FC Istiklol of Tajikistan. Meanwhile, Al Rayyan miss out on a place in the group stage for the first time since 2017.(the-afc.com)
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