Iran’s Esteghlal will square off against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli on Wednesday in a must-win fixture for the Tehran-based Blues at the 2020 AFC Champions League (ACL) in Doha.
The Saudi club is secured a top-spot finish in the three-team Group A – which saw the UAE’s Al Wahda pull out due to the diagnosis of several players with COVID-19 before the competition resumed in the Qatari capital – with six points, with Iraq’s Al Shorta currently in second place with five points.
A victory with a two-goal cushion for Esteghlal – which has collected two points from previous matches – in Wednesday’s game will seal a place in the last-16 round for Majid Namjoo-Motlaq’s men.
However, a 1-0 win will mean that Esteghlal and Al Shorta will be separated by their disciplinary records – as the two sides will be equal on goal difference and goals scored with two head-to-head matches having finished 1-1. Esteghlal has a better record in that regard, heading into Wednesday’s game.
“I have to say this is a very important game for us and we have to only think about winning to qualify to the next round,” said Namjoo-Motlaq in a pre-match press conference.
“In the previous game, we did not do well in set-pieces and we did not take our chances, but of course those are lessons we learned from that game and will look to show more focus in those two areas in the next game to get the win," added Nmjoo-Motlaq, whose side came from behind to settle for a draw against Al Shorta on Sunday.
“We need to be calm and only focus on getting the three points. Al Ahli is a good and respectable team, but we are determined to win and go to the round of 16 as representatives of Iran.
"We will not look at our opponent and its position in the group being already qualified, we only focus on our situation that we need the three points to qualify to the next round. This will be our priority," added the caretaker manager who replaced Farhad Majidi right before the competition restarted earlier this month.
Meanwhile, a 1-0 against Qatari side Al Duhail on Monday saw Persepolis fall to the third spot in Group C.
A controversial second-half goal made the difference between the two sides as Al Duhail skipper Almoez Ali scored form the spot after the referee decided that Reds defender Shoja Khalilzadeh’s aerial challenge on Edmilson was a foul inside the box.
Persepolis will now have to beat Sharjah on the final day to book a place in the knockouts.
The Emirati side thrashed Saudi team Al Taawoun 6-0 to move above Persepolis into second place on a better goal difference.
In Group D, Sepahan’s campaign finished in an early exit in the groups.
A goalless draw against the UAE’s Al Ain saw the Isfahan-based club stand five points behind second-placed Qatar’s Al Sadd – which scored late for a 1-1 draw against Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr – with a game left in the group.