Iran’s Esteghlal face an all-or-nothing encounter against confirmed Group A winners Al Ahli Saudi today, needing three points to secure passage to the 2020 AFC Champions League Round of 16.
Six points were enough to secure the top spot in the three-team group for Al Ahli after Esteghlal and Al Shorta played out a 1-1 draw on Matchday Five.
The Sunday fixture was Al Shorta’s last, meaning they ended the group stage with five points. Esteghlal, who are bottom with two points, can eclipse the Iraqis should they beat Al Ahli by a two-goal margin.
A 1-0 win for the Tehran-based side would mean disciplinary record will be the tie breaker between them and Al Shorta.
“I have to say this is a very important game for us and we have to only think about winning to qualify to the next round,” said Esteghlal head coach Majid Namjoo-Motlagh.
“In the previous game, we did not do well in set-pieces and we did not take our chances, but of course those are lessons we learned from that game and will look to show more focus in those two areas in the next game to get the win.
“We need to be calm and only focus on getting the three points. Al Ahli are a good and respectable team, but we are determined to win and go to the Round of 16 as representatives of Iran.
“We will not look at our opponents and their position in the group being already qualified, we only focus on our situation that we need the three points to qualify to the next round. This will be our priority.”
Al Ahli, who are set to face one of Al Hilal, Pakhtakor or Shabab Al Ahli Dubai in the Round of 16, will make some changes to their starting XI, and head coach Vladan Milojevic has challenged his younger players to prove themselves against top quality opponents.
“I like to win even in training, this is my mentality and this game is no different. I want to win it too,” said the Serbian.
“I always say to my players that you must always play for the win. Of course, we have players who have yellow cards and are in risk of being suspended and we have to protect players from injury, but my thought is to see how my players fare against a strong team like Esteghlal.
“They are an opposite who will come in and fight hard, but I only care about my players and I want them to work hard and perform well to get the win.”
The two teams had met on Matchday Two, with Al Ahli walking away with the three points in Jeddah.
Salman al-Moasher netted both Al Ahli’s goals either side of an Amir Arsalan Motahari strike for Esteghlal in a 2-1 win for the Saudis
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