Islamic Republic of Iran’s Persepolis FC made it three AFC Champions League quarter-final appearances in four years after overcoming Al Sadd SC 1-0 in the Round of 16 on Sunday.
Persepolis weathered extended spells of possession by Al Sadd and looked to hit their opponents on the counter, and after striker Ali Alkasir hit the woodwork twice in the second half, the number 72 finally got his goal, heading in Omid Alishah’s cross just two minutes from time to win it for the Iran Pro League winners.
Having reached the semi-finals in 2017, bowing out to Al Hilal SFC, then going all the way to the final the following year before losing to Kashima Antlers, Persepolis are determined to make 2020 their year and have now moved a step closer to the final.
“We are very happy for this match. It was difficult but the players proved their merit,” said head coach Yahya Golmohammadi, who had represented Persepolis as a player for seven years in two spells.
“We had a difficult start. When we came to Qatar we were bottom of the group, but we qualified as top of the group after three very important wins. But the job is not done yet; we have two very important and difficult stages coming up that we need to win to go to the final.
“I would like to congratulate and thank my players because I know they played with all their heart and they had a sense of honour and wanting to make Persepolis fans proud. I would also like to congratulate Persepolis fans who sent us their positive energy and support from distance.”
Al Sadd’s elimination at the Round of 16 stage means they have exited the competition at the knockout stages five times since 2013 without lifting the trophy, a record only matched by Al Ahli Saudi FC’s six unsuccessful attempts in the same period, although the Saudis remain in contention for the 2020 edition.
Under the guidance of head coach Xavi, Al Sadd were knocked out at the semi-finals last year, losing to Al Hilal 6-5 on aggregate, and the Spanish coach lamented the lack of winning mentality and important club values for their inability to reclaim the continental crown they won in 2011.
“I feel very sad because both me and the players felt it was a good moment for us to qualify,” said Xavi.
“We had more possession, more shots and more opportunities. We were the better team throughout the match. I told the players that in this competition, you make one mistake and you are out. We did so well but we committed a mistake at the end, and we are out.”
“We needed more luck, but we also needed more spirit, more winning mentality, and more ambition. These are all club values which are important in this type of competition. We have to build these club values with time to win a competition like the AFC Champions League.
The way to instil these values is to look for revenge next year and always seek winning the next one when you lose, this is how you instil values at the club.”
Persepolis are joined by Al Nassr FC, Pakhtakor FC and Al Ahli Saudi FC in the quarter-finals of the 2020 AFC Champions League. None of the four sides have ever won the AFC Champions League nor its predecessor the Asian Club Championship.
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