Thursday, 09 February 2012 20:09
AFC - Esteghlal coach Parviz Mazloumi is confident his side can overcome injuries to key midfield duo Andranik Teymourian and Mojtaba Jabbari in their AFC Champions League play-off clash with fellow Iran Pro League side Zob Ahan at the Azadi Stadium on Friday.
A place in the final round of qualifying - where they will meet Saudi Arabia's Ettifaq - awaits the winners of the all-Iran encounter and Esteghlal go into the clash as favourites to progress after an impressive run of form has seen them emerge among the contenders for the domestic title.
But that battle - which sees them sitting in second place, two points behind league leaders and defending champions Sepahan after 25 games - has taken its toll, although Mazloumi is confident his team can still prevail.
"Due to our league schedule, we have had to play every three or four days and now we have four or five players who are unavailable because of injury," said Mazloumi, whose team finished in second in the Iran Pro League last season.
"We don't have them in this game and this is a loss for us but we have to try to win.
"We are ready to face Zob Ahan but it is bad luck for Iranian football that we both have to play against each other in this game because it means that one team has to be eliminated. Having said that, we are ready and I'm sure we will do our best."
A toe injury has sidelined Teymourian while a knee complaint has ruled out Jabbari, the club's leading scorer this season. Despite this, however, Esteghlal go into the game off the back of a 2-2 draw with Saipa in the league on Monday, in which former Iran international midfielder Fereydoon Zandi scored twice from free kicks.
Zob Ahan, meanwhile, have been struggling in the Iran Pro League and are currently in eighth place, 14 points behind Esteghlal having won just seven times so far this season and go into the game having drawn 0-0 with bottom side Mes Sarcheshmeh on Monday.
The club, though, have a solid pedigree in the AFC Champions League, having reached the final in 2010 and the last eight in the 2011 edition of the competition. Coach Mansour Ebrahimzadeh refused to predict the outcome of the encounter.
"This game is like an Iranian derby," he said. "Normally there are more Iranian teams in the group stages but unfortunately now we have to play off against one another.
"I can't predict the outcome of tomorrow's game, we'll only know after the final whistle but we only have one injured player (defender Seyed Mohammed Hosseini) and everything is fine with the team after the league match a few days ago. We are ready and looking forward to the match."