Persepolis FC left it very late to defeat Al Sadd SC 1-0 in the 2020 AFC Champions League Round of 16, securing their place in the quarter-finals for the third time in four years thanks to an 88th minute Isa al-Kasir header.
The two sides had met in the semi-finals of the 2018 AFC Champions League, with Persepolis emerging 2-1 winners on aggregate to reach the final. Since then, they also exchanged wins in the 2019 group stage.
Despite keeping possession for extended periods of the first half, Al Sadd’s only chances came through shots from outside the box. Santi Cazorla drew a save from goalkeeper Hamed Lak in the 13th minute and Mohamed Jadoua’s effort from distance went agonisingly close on the wrong side of the post.
A quick break from the left flank saw Persepolis’ Ehsan Pahlavan dribble down the left and cross low for Vahid Amiri who was free at the near post but on trying to apply a first-time finish, could not direct it goalward.
Persepolis came as close as possible to opening the scoring without actually doing so at the hour mark as Resan moved into space on the right and crossed it for Kasir who beat his marker to the ball and applied the finish but his effort hit the upright.
It was deja vu nine minutes later as the two players combined again, and once more Resan’s cross found Kasir in space but this time the ball ricocheted against the crossbar.
With 15 minutes left, Akram Afif dribbled down the left flank and cut back to Nam Tae-hee who took it first time with his left but goalkeeper Lak was present to save.
Afif tried his luck again in the 82nd minute, cutting inside from the left but again Lak was untroubled, comfortably saving.
As the two teams looked set to head into extra time, it was finally third time lucky for Kasir who rose unchallenged to power in a header from substitute Omid Alishah’s corner, beating goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb and sending his side into the next round with his second goal of the 2020 AFC Champions League campaign.
“I think the game was really equal. We had more possession, more shots and better opportunities, but as I told the players, in this competition you make just one mistake and you’re out,” Al Sadd head coach Xavi Hernandez was quoted as saying by Al Sadd’s website after the loss.
“We made a mistake from a set-piece, a corner, and we didn’t focus. This is football. We were focused until the last minute, but one mistake and we are out. We have to accept it and learn from our mistakes.
“It’s a pity because after a game like that, normally you have to win. Sometimes, football is not fair.”
The Spanish legend rued the absence of VAR in the competition. “Also, let me tell you something about the competition. In my humble opinion, it’s a big shame that this competition, the best in Asia, does not have VAR. It’s a big shame,” he said.
“If we had VAR today, there would be a penalty for us. I don’t want to talk about referees because I know that their job is really difficult, and sometimes football is very fast, and you have to make decisions in seconds. But VAR helps the referees a lot. If we had VAR today, we would be talking about a different result.
“The best competition in Asia deserves the best conditions to play, and today we didn’t have that.”
Regarding the fitness level of the players in the final minutes of the match, Xavi said: “This (fatigue) is not the main reason (for the defeat). It is normal for players to feel tired, it is really tough playing games every three days. It is difficult to play 90 minutes. But it’s not a reason, because Persepolis was also tired.
“It’s a matter of mistakes. We have to control the details. This is football. It would have changed the result if we had scored one goal. I think we were a bit better than the opponent, but we are out. We have to accept it. We have to congratulate the other team. This is sport.”
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