Al Sadd came from behind to claim a healthy first-leg advantage in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals as they beat Esteghlal 3-1 on Monday.
It initially looked as though the Iranian outfit would be making the most of their home advantage at the Azadi Stadium as they took the lead after 12 minutes, although – in truth – it was an absolute gift from Al Sadd.
There was little danger when Boualem Khoukhi sat under a high ball before sending a tame header back to his goalkeeper.
— AlSadd S.C | نادي السد (@AlsaddSC) August 27, 2018
But, having been given the nod since the start of the new Qatar Stars League campaign to stand in for regular first-choice Saad Al-Sheeb, Meshal Eisa somehow allowed the ball to roll under his foot – brushing his studs on the way into his goal.
Nonetheless, it did not take long for the visitors to get into their groove and Khoukhi called opposition keeper Mehdi Ramati into action when he whipped a 25-yard freekick towards the bottom corner in the 30th minute, before Abdelkarim Hassan wastefully sliced a half-volley wide two minutes later after being left in acres of space from Baghdad Bounedjah’s flick-on header.
The equaliser eventually came on the hour mark through Akram Afif, who played a neat one-two with Bounedjah and used his searing pace to race through down the left before beating Ramati with a shot that took a nick off Mohammad Daneshgar on its way in.
Just five minutes later, Al Sadd took the lead as Xavi – with his back towards goal just inside the Esteghlal half – played a sublime flick with his heel to sent Bounedjah racing towards goal.
Although he had Daneshgar in close attention, the Algerian striker kept his composure to hold off the challenge before slotting past Ramati.
And, in the 73rd minute, more calamity ensued for Esteghlal as Ramati’s misplaced pass allowed Hassan Al-Haidos to feed a waiting Bounedjah, who was then barged over from behind by Vouria Ghafouri inside the box.
Referee Ma Ning had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Bounedjah, with ten goals in his past three games to his name, emphatically smashed the penalty straight down the middle to complete the comeback.
Both sides will now meet again in the return encounter at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium on September 17 with Al Sadd in pole position to advance to the last four, where they will meet either compatriots Al Duhail or another Iranian side in Persepolis.
FULL-TIME | Esteghlal FC (IRN) 1-3 Al Sadd SC (QAT)@AlsaddSC put one foot in the semifinal after a stunning comeback making the Iranian’s job extremely difficult.#ACL2018 #ETLvSAD pic.twitter.com/cp3yO3bler
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) August 27, 2018
ESTEGHLAL: Mehdi Ramati, Vouria Ghafouri, Pejman Montazeri, Rouzbeh Cheshmi, Armin Sohrabian, Markus Neumayr (Mohammad Daneshgar 55’), Farshid Bagheri, Humam Tariq (Sajjad Aghaei 81’), Farshid Esmaeili, Morteza Tabrizi, Alhaji Gero.
AL SADD: Meshal Eisa, Hamid Ismail, Ro-Ro, Boualem Khoukhi, Abdelkarim Hassan, Gabi, Jung Woo-young, Akram Afif (Ali Asad 88’), Xavi, Yaseer Abubaker (Hassan Al-Haidos 59’), Baghdad Bounedjah (Hamza Sanhaji 90+2’).