Tehran archrivals Persepolis and Esteghlal extended their stay in Doha, Qatar, by securing places at the AFC Champions League (ACL) round of 16, which gets underway on Saturday.
Group A runner-up Esteghlal – which sealed progress with a 3-0 routing of Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli on Wednesday – will play in the last-16 round for the third time in four years when squaring off against Pakhtakor at Al Janoub Stadium on Saturday.
The Uzbek side was handed the top spot of Group B after Al Hilal was forced out of the competition by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) due to the diagnosis of a host of Saudi club players with COVID-19.
Persepolis, meanwhile, thrashed the UAE’s Sharjah 4-0 in a must-win tie for the Reds on Thursday to win Group C and set a last-16 date with Xavi’s Al Sadd on Sunday.
Center-back Shoja Khalilzadeh’s header opened the account for the Reds with two minutes into the game, before another two superb headers by Issa Alekasir and Vahid Amiri inside three minutes right before the interval gave Yahya Golmohammadi’s men a commanding first-half lead.
Substitute Mehdi Abdi signed off with a close-range effort in the stoppage time.
Golmohammadi was full of praise for his players' fighting spirit after the match, saying, “We had players who were playing with injuries, but they fought really hard. I would like to thank and congratulate the players for the way they fought today. I also would like to thank and congratulate Persepolis fans everywhere for their messages of support for us through social media. We knew they were all behind us and had their positive energy to push us forward.
“It was a really important match for us, and it was important that we score early,” added the 49-year-old Iranian.
“We wanted to start strong and after the goal things were a bit easier, but we did not ease the pressure, we kept going and got a second and third goals before half time.”
In the simultaneous game of the group Qatar’s Al Duhail – group leader before Thursday fixtures – was stunned by a late goal against Al Taawoun as the 1-0 victory gave the Saudi side a place in the knockout round.