A last-four spot at the AFC Champions League (ACL) will be up for grabs when the Persian Gulf Pro League club Persepolis squares off against Saudi side Al Hilal at Riyadh’s Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium on Saturday.
Persepolis edged past Istiklol of Tajikistan 1-0 – courtesy of a Mehdi Torabi’s late winner in Dushanbe – to book a place in the quarterfinals, while French striker Bafetimbi Gomis and Salem al-Dawsari were on the scoresheet as Al Hilal beat Iran’s Esteghlal 2-0 in Dubai to go through.
The Tehran-based Reds, runners-up in 2018 and 2020, will be looking for a fourth place in the semifinals in five years, however, history will be on Al Hilal’s side in Saturday’s encounter.
Leonardo Jardim's team, seeking a second title in three seasons, has won three of the previous eight meetings between the two, conceding a single defeat back in 2015.
The last time these two clubs met in the competition was a semifinal two-legged tie in 2017, which the Saudi outfit won 6-2 on aggregate.
Having seen Iranian international center-back Hossein Kan’anizadegan and talismanic midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi part ways with the club following the group campaign in April, Persepolis will count on the leadership of veteran defender Seyyed Jalal Hosseini, as well as Vahid Amiri and Torabi up front – with the latter delivering three goals and four assists in the previous seven outings at this year’s competition.
The biggest worry for Reds’ manager Yahya Golmohammadi, however, will be the lack of competitive football, as his team has had to settle for a couple of friendlies since the mid-September victory at Istiklol.
Al Hilal, meanwhile, will step into the game on the back of a run of three wins and three draws at the Saudi Pro League, which has left them fourth in the domestic table, and will be bolstered by the return of injured marksman Dawsari, though Yasser al-Shahrani and Saad al-Nasser are likely to miss the game with injury.
The 36-year-old Frenchman Gomis goes into the match in impressive form, having netted five goals in his last four games.
The winner of Saturday’s game will play either Al Wahda of the UAE or Saudi club Al Nassr, which will also meet in Riyadh earlier in the day, on Tuesday.
Sunday’s East zone quarterfinals will see defending champion Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors play in an all-South Korean tie, with Japan’s Nagoya Grampus taking on Pohang Steelers – also from South Korea.
Both matches will be played in Jeonju, South Korea.