Thiam’s Hat-Trick Rockets Esteghlal to Quarterfinals

Thiam put the hosts in front from the spot shortly after the 10-minute mark.Thiam put the hosts in front from the spot shortly after the 10-minute mark.

Mame Thiam’s hat-trick against Zobahan on Tuesday rocketed Esteghlal to the AFC Champions League quarterfinals to increase the number of Iranian teams at the level to two along with Persepolis which made it on Monday.

Thiam insists that Esteghlal are aiming for a spot in the 2018 AFC Champions League final after the striker’s treble in the 3-1 Round of 16 second leg win over fellow Iranian side Zobahan on Tuesday saw them advance to the quarterfinals 3-2 on aggregate, AFC reported.

The Tehran side conceded defeat in added time in last week’s first leg 1-0 in Isfahan left them with plenty to do at Azadi Stadium, where more than 75,000 fans generated a fantastic atmosphere at the national stadium.

Thiam put the hosts in front from the spot shortly after the 10-minute mark to level the tie on aggregate, before the Senegalese forward’s stunning left-foot effort from distance put them 2-0 on the night four minutes before the interval.

Eighteen minutes into the second half Thiam slotted home after being teed up by Server Djeparov to send the crowd into raptures, but there was stunned silence almost immediately after when Ghasem Haddadifar pulled one back to ensure a nervy finish.

One more goal from Zobahan would have seen the 2010 runners-up progress and Robin Ataya so nearly grabbed it with almost the last kick of the game, but the unmarked substitute fired over at the back post as Esteghlal held out.

“This is a very good win because we know that we are better than our opponent, so we are very happy to achieve this victory,” said Thiam. “We know we are a good team and now we have to give our maximum to get to the final.”

Thiam’s treble means the striker is now on seven goals for the campaign, after joining Esteghlal in February.

He is just two goals behind the tournament’s joint top scorers Baghdad Bounedjah of Al Sadd and Youssef El Arabi of Al Duhail, with both sides also still in the competition.

It was the fifth time the Tehran side appeared in the Round of 16, yet they had progressed just once beyond, back in 2013 when they went on to reach the semi-finals.

Tuesday’s win carried extra significance in what was an emotional day for the club. Part of their starting line-up in 2013 was former Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers defender Jlloyd Samuel, who died earlier on Tuesday in a car crash in England.

The defender spent two-and-a-half years with the club before joining fellow Iranian Pro League side Paykan, and the win was the perfect tribute to the former Trinidad and Tobago international.

“This victory is for Jlloyd Samuel, our friend who was in a car crash today,” added Thiam.

 Prize Money

Up to the quarterfinals, each of the Iranian clubs has earned $250,000 prize money for advancing to the level. The amount of $100,000 is for advancing to the round of 16 form 32 teams and the rest for stepping into quarterfinals.

Also an extra of $50,000 for each win and $10,000 for the draws are given to the participating teams, including Iranian clubs. This will raise the reward for Persepolis to $510,000 and for Esteghlal to $480,000.

 Clash of Titans Possible

Both Esteghlal and Persepolis clubs are using the Azadi Stadium in Tehran as their home. Now that both teams are in the quarterfinals, their clash is possible.

Games in quarterfinals will also follow the two-legged method meaning Azadi will be home to one of the clubs in one leg and to the other one in the second leg.

Based on AFC rules, the host team has a higher share of capacity around 90% and the guest team will be given ten percent of the chairs while in the domestic league games the share is cut in half between both sides.

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