AFC - Persepolis look to defend a 1-0 lead when they welcome Al Sadd in the second leg of the West Asia semi-final of the 2018 AFC Champions League on Tuesday.
Persepolis had become the first team to defeat Al Sadd at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in the 2018 edition, after weathering an avalanche of Qatari attacks for 85 minutes and then hitting on the counter, forcing goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb to concede a penalty that resulted in the winner.
After successfully negotiating a tricky two legged tie in the quarter-finals against previously unbeaten Al Duhail, Persepolis found themselves up against another Qatari side in the semi-finals. This time, it was their group stage opponents, Al Sadd.
Branko Ivankovic's men seemed to have learnt their lesson from the 3-1 defeat against Al Sadd on Matchday Two, as they built their match plan around a sturdy defence. They ceded possession in Al Sadd's favour, and banked on efficiency instead. It proved to be a winning bet as they secured a 1-0 win despite enjoying just 33 percent of play and having only two shots on target.
Both Persepolis' shots on target in the first leg came from one source, striker Ali Alipour. The 22-year-old was the side's main attacking outlet, and with five minutes left on the clock, he broke free down the middle, outpacing his marker and rounding the goalkeeper who had no option but to bring him down inside the box.
Converting from the spot, Alipour registered his fifth strike of the campaign. Among the four semi-finalists, only Baghdad Bounedjah and Dejan Damjanovic have more goals than the Persepolis forward.
Prior to the semi-finals, Al Sadd had scored 20 goals in the competition, more goals than any of the other three semi-finalists, but they failed to add to their tally at home in the first leg, the first time Jesualdo Ferreira's men fail to score at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in the 2018 AFC Champions League, and it cost them the result.
The 2011 champions face a difficult task to come away with a result from Azadi Stadium, but they are all too familiar with how to make it happen, having defeated Persepolis' arch rivals, Esteghlal, 3-1 in Tehran in the quarter-final first leg, before settling for a 2-2 draw in Doha to advance to the next step.
The star of the two quarter-final legs was 21-year-old Akram Afif, the midfielder on loan from Spanish side Villarreal, who scored a goal apiece in each leg and was brought down inside the box for the penalty that allowed Baghdad Bounedjah to equalise in the first leg.
The Qatari international has been key for Al Sadd's journey to the semi-finals, starting 10 of their 11 games in the competition and contributing two goals and three assists. A repeat of his performance against Esteghlal at Azadi Stadium on Tuesday would go a long way towards helping Al Sadd turn the table on Persepolis.
Ones To Watch:
Al Sadd vs Persepolis
Venue: Azadi Stadium, Tehran
Kick-off: October 23, 18:30 UTC+3:30
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