Iran champions Esteghlal won last month’s first leg 1-0 thanks to Khosro Heydari’s fortunate early strike at Azadi Stadium, but were indebted to goalkeeper Mehdi Rahmati who denied Jesus Berrocal and Osmar Barba in the second half as Thai Premier League leaders Buriram were unlucky not to salvage at least a draw.
But with Esteghlal now nearly 10 games into the defence of their domestic title having played only a handful of matches prior to the first leg, Samuel is confident Amir Ghalenoei’s side can remain on course to add to the Asian Club Championship titles won in 1970 and 1991 and join Korea Republic’s Pohang Steelers as the only three-time continental champions.
“They had the advantage because they had played more games than us before the first leg. Their domestic league is just finishing while ours is just beginning, but I am confident we will improve once we have played more games,” said the 32-year-old, who joined Esteghlal prior to the 2012 season.
“Buriram did surprise us in the first leg. They were a well organised team and they could pass the ball very well and in the last minutes of the match I believe we were very lucky.”
Buriram, who are currently five points clear at the top of the Thai Premier League ahead of Saturday’s meeting with BEC Tero Sasana, having reeled off four consecutive wins since the defeat in Iran, are unbeaten at home in the AFC Champions League this season and beat two-time semi-finalists Bunyodkor from Uzbekistan 2-1 in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie in May.
“We were happy with how we played in the first leg, although we could have done better,” added former Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers defender Samuel, who has contributed three goals in his eight appearances for Esteghlal in the AFC Champions League this season.
“The second leg will be a tough game, but I’m confident we will play well and win.
“We are only thinking about our second leg and we have to win if we want to advance.”
Should Esteghlal return to the semi-finals of the continental competition for the first time since the last edition of the Asian Club Championship in 2002, they will face either K-League champions FC Seoul or 2012 AFC Champions League finalists Al Ahli from Saudi Arabia.
FC Seoul, who are appearing in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League for the third time in five years, are favourites to advance to the semi-finals for the first time after sharing a 1-1 draw in Saudi Arabia last month.
On the other side of the draw, Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande will look to defend a two-goal first leg advantage against Lekhwiya in Qatar, while Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab entertain Kashiwa Reysol following a 1-1 draw in Japan.
Image courtesy of WSG