Tehran Times - Esteghlal Football team will face Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal SFC in a unique and strange situation, according to the club’s former player Pirouz Ghorbani.
The Iran Professional League (IPL) runners-up will start their campaign in the knockout stage of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League with an old and strong rival, Al Hilal.
The Blues claimed first place in Group C, which was one the toughest groups of the preliminary round of the 2021 AFC Champions League.
Esteghlal now have a completely different team than what they had during the group stage, Ghorbani confirms.
“A lot of players have left the team, some of them were the key ones like Mehdi Ghaedi, and Esteghlal has signed several new faces in the summer which will wear the team’s jersey for the first time in such an important tournament,” Ghorbani said.
“On the other hand, the Iranian league has not started yet, and teams, who are the country’s representatives in the AFC Champions League, will enter the Round of 16 clashes without full preparation and without playing any official match for some months. But Al Hilal have played three games in the Saudi’s league, which is an advantage for them. I think it is a strange and difficult situation that Esteghlal will experience in the continental competitions, a unique one!” he added.
Having retained the faith of fans and the managers of Esteghlal for at least another year, Farhad Majidi hopes to succeed with Esteghlal both in Asian competitions and the domestic ones where he and his side are desperate to end the five-year reign of the dominance of archrivals Persepolis in the Iranian league.
Esteghlal also determined to erase the memory of the last edition’s Round of 16, where they lost to Pakhtakor 2-1.
While Pirouz Ghorbani avoided talking about the technical points of the game because both teams have changed a lot, he wished success for his former team in what he called a very tough challenge.
“I think concentration will be an important factor for this game. All the players must be concentrated on their jobs from the beginning to the end. It will be a tough challenge, and I hope that Esteghlal win this challenge,” he concluded.