AFC Champions League: Al Sadd in control but Esteghlal still pose threat

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan looks ahead to what can be expected from the second leg of the quarter-finals as the AFC Champions League returns this week.

By Wednesday evening, the contenders for the AFC Champions League crown will be down to four: two from the East and two from the West.

Following the international break, the ACL gets back underway with the second legs of the quarter-finals and there is still plenty to play for.

Here, FOX Sports Asia previews the crucial ties that will decide which teams will be the final four, starting with Qatari giants Al Sadd’s home game against Esteghlal of Iran.

AL SADD v ESTEGHLAL (Monday, September 17; Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha)

The story so far: It was a horror start for Al Sadd in the first leg as they fell behind early on courtesy of a comical own-goal by goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham.

However, they were soon able to overcome the deficit as Akram Afif equalised in the 60th minute, before Baghdad Bounedjah netted a brace to hand the Qataris the victory – and three crucial away goals as well.

A two-goal deficit is by no means an insurmountable obstacle for Esteghlal but Al Sadd’s ACL record at home reads four wins in as many games in 2018, and just one defeat in their last 14 games dating back to 2011.

Having lost a host of key players like Iran internationals Majid Hosseini and Omid Ebrahimi, as well as all four of their foreign imports, in the off-season, Esteghlal will need for things to click quickly if they are to get a result at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha.

Recent form

Al Sadd 3-0 Al Shahaniya (QSL Cup)
Al Sadd 4-0 Al Shahaniya (Qatar Stars League)
Esteghlal 1-3 Al Sadd (AFC Champions League)
Al Sadd 1-1 Al Gharafa (Qatar Stars League)
Al Sadd 10-1 Al Arabi (Qatar Stars League)

Esteghlal 1-3 Al Sadd (AFC Champions League)
Esteghlal 0-0 Foolad (Persian Gulf Pro League)
Pars Jonoubi 1-0 Esteghlal (Persian Gulf Pro League)
Esteghlal 3-0 Tractor Sazi (Persian Gulf Pro League)
Zob Ahan 2-2 Esteghlal (Persian Gulf Pro League)

Player to watch: Humam Tariq (Esteghlal)

Iraq international Humam Tariq will be looking to make an impact at Esteghlal.

One of three new foreigners that Esteghlal coach Winfried Schafer procured over the off-season, Humam Tariq’s progress in Iran will be keenly followed by many given the 22-year-old remains one of the most highly-rated prospects in Asian football.

The former Air Force Club talisman showed a couple of positive signs in the first leg against a formidable opponent in Al Sadd left-back Abdelkarim Hassan.

However, if Tariq is to fully fulfil his potential – and perhaps even reach Europe one day – this is the perfect type of game for him to take by the scruff of the neck and look to inspire his team to victory.

Gabriel Tan’s prediction: “Esteghlal will give it a real go but there aren’t many sides in Asia with the talent and experience of Al Sadd, especially with a settled backline, former Spain maestro Xavi pulling the strings in midfield, and the likes of Bounedjah and Afif up front.

“I’m thinking Al Sadd will win this 2-1 and progress 5-2 on aggregate.”