Esteghlal through to face Neftchi

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AFC - Iranian giants Esteghlal booked their place in the final qualifying round of the AFC Champions League with a 1-0 victory over Al Faisaly in front of 20,000 fans in Jordan, giving them a 3-0 aggregate win. The two-time Asian Club Championship winners will play Neftchi of Uzbekistan next month in the fourth round of Zone Two (West).

Esteghlal, Iran's reigning Hazfi Cup champions, were the favourites going into the return leg following their 2-0 victory a fortnight ago in the Takhti Stadium in Tehran, where Faraz Fatemi's injury-time goal made Faisaly's task in the return leg far more imposing.

In anticipation of an heroic comeback, Faisaly fans packed the Amman International Stadium to cheer on the home team, who featured several players from the Jordan side who lost 3-2 to Iraq in the final of last month's WAFF Championship in Syria.

Despite the support, Esteghlal effectively killed off the tie when international midfielder Sirous Dinmohammadi, a member of the Iran squad at France 98, scored what proved to be the only goal of the game in the 44th minute.

Esteghlal, Asian Club Championship winners in 1970 and 1990 and semi-finalists in the last-ever edition earlier this year, will face Neftchi for a place in the lucrative 16-team group stage. Neftchi earned their place in the final qualifying round with a 2-1 away win and a 6-0 home thrashing of Ahli Sana'a of Yemen.

Four qualifiers from the west and four from the east will join eight seeded teams in the group stage in March.

The AFC Champions League, which was launched in August, replaces the Asian Club Championship, the Asian Cup Winners' Cup and the Asian Super Cup. The winning team will take home a first prize of US$500,000.

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