Esteghlal, Persepolis Reach Knockout Round

Last year’s runner-up Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia was eliminated from the tournament group stage for the first time since 2006 after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the UAE’s Al Ain
Esteghlal players celebrate their second goal against Al Rayyan at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.Esteghlal players celebrate their second goal against Al Rayyan at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.

Esteghlal and Persepolis found their way to the knockout stage of the Asian Football Confederation Champions League.

In Group D of the tournament Esteghlal booked a spot in the next round of the games with a 2-0 win over Qatar’s Al Rayyan at Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Matchday Five on Monday, the AFC reported on its website.

The host got off to a flying start and needed just four minutes to open the scoring as Uzbek midfielder Server Djeparov converted a cross from Farshid Esmaeili past goalkeeper Oumar Barry.

Al Rayyan captain Rodrigo Tabata attempted his luck from long distance, but his strike went wide in the 20th minute as the Qatari side intensified the pressure in an effort to find an equalizer.

Esteghlal doubled the lead 13 minutes after the restart as Vouria Ghafouri stepped up to drive home from the penalty spot to make it 2-0.

At the end of the game, Djeparov was selected as the Player of the Match.

The result means Esteghlal is through to the Round of 16 while Al Rayyan will have to battle Al Ain of the UAE for the Group D second ticket on Matchday Six in two weeks’ time.

  Last Year’s Runner-up Eliminated

Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, last year’s runner-up, was eliminated from the tournament group stage for the first time since 2006 after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Al Ain thanks to a brace from Marcus Berg on Monday at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

The result means Al Ain will face Al Rayyan in Qatar in a direct battle for the group’s second ticket to the Round of 16.

  One Point Enough for Persepolis

Another representative from Iran in the tournament Persepolis, last year’s semifinalist, also sealed a place at the knockout stage with a 0-0 draw against Uzbekistan’s FC Nasaf on Monday at Karshi Central Stadium in Karshi, Uzbekistan, as the Iran side claimed a better head-to-head record in their Group C campaign.

The Iranian team dominated possession throughout the opening half but could not make a single shot on target for the entire 45 minutes as Nasaf defended resolutely in the face of frequent attacks.

The host’s most dangerous chance of the first half came in the 18th minute when Azizjon Ganiev’s cross from the right flank nearly tricked Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, but the Iranian international tipped it behind before defender Jalal Hosseini cleared the danger.

After the break, Persepolis stepped up its game as Siamak Nemati attempted to take Farshad Ahmadzadeh’s cross, but his half-volleyed effort sailed high above the Uzbek goal five minutes after the restart.

Nasaf boss Ruziqol Berdiev introduced striker Dragan Ceran at the hour-mark, and the Serbian’s first contribution was to set up Bobir Abdixolikov for an overhead kick that went just wide off Beiranvand.

Vahid Amiri set up substitute Ahmed Nourollahi at the edge of the penalty box and the midfielder’s strike from an angle was tipped over by Sanjar Kuvvatov to keep the score level at the final whistle.

The result confirms Persepolis and Al Sadd of Qatar as the two qualifiers from Group C as Nasaf joins Al Wasl of the UAE in elimination.

Al Sadd qualified for the knockout stage after Baghdad Bounedjah’s brace propelled the Qatari side to a 2-1 win over Al Wasl on Monday at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in the Qatari capital.

Persepolis and Al Sadd will face off in Tehran on Matchday Six to decide which team gets the top spot of Group C. Al Wasl is at the bottom of the table after a fifth straight defeat and will play Nasaf aiming to clinch a consolation win.

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