Tasnim – Saipa midfielder Ali Dashti and Zob Ahan goalkeeper Rashid Mazaheri are among the eight players to watch at the 2019 AFC Champions League West Asia play-offs.
Iran’s Saipa returns to the AFC Champions League 12 years since its historic debut campaign that saw the team reach the quarter-finals under the management of Iran legend Ali Daei.
One of the key men behind its highest league finish in over a decade is versatile midfielder Ali Dashti. The 25-year-old brings flair and agility to the Tehran-based side and his ability to exploit spaces down either flank has seen him become ever more important to Saipa's attacking game.
Dashti joined Saipa in the summer of 2018 after a breakthrough season with Pars Jonoubi Jam in the second division and was key to the Iranian side as it brushed aside India's Minerva Punjab to progress to the play-off stage of the 2019 AFC Champions League where it will face Qatar's Al Rayyan.
And Mazaheri, who is entering his fifth year at the club, has helped Zob Ahan reach the AFC Champions League Round of 16 twice, in 2016 and 2018.
He helped the Isfahan-based football team beat Kuwait SC on Tuesday.
Testament to the 29-year-old's abilities is his selection by coach Carlos Queiroz to be a part of the Team Melli squad in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Competition from Alireza Beiranvand and Amir Abedzadeh meant Mazaheri has only won three caps so far, although he has constantly been part of the national team setup.
The 192-cm-tall custodian narrowly missed out on an Asian Games medal, finishing fourth in the 2010 edition as Iran lost to Korea Republic 4-3 in the third-place decider. Mazaheri's skills will be crucial for Zob Ahan as the team attempts to stop fellow Iranian international Mehdi Taremi and his Al Gharafa teammates.
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