AFC Champions League: Persepolis to stop Al Duhail from making history?

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.

– Al Sadd in control but Esteghlal still pose threat

Here, in the second part of FOX Sports Asia‘s previews of the crucial ties that will decide the final four, we focus on Al Duhail’s trip to Persepolis.

PERSEPOLIS v AL DUHAIL (Monday, September 17; Azadi Stadium, Tehran)

The story so far: Arguably the story of the ACL this season, all eyes will be on Al Duhail and whether they can make it a new tournament record of ten consecutive wins at the Azadi Stadium on Monday.

Having dominated most of their opponents thus far in 2018, the Qatari champions found themselves up against stern opposition in the first leg against Persepolis, and could only come away with a slender 1-0 win courtesy of Almoez Ali’s 15th-minute header.

On paper, Al Duhail should be getting past this tie but Persepolis have plenty of quality of their own, especially in centre-back Shoja’ Khalilzadeh, enforcer Kamal Kamyabinia and striker Ali Alipour.

Throw in the fact that they will be over 78,000 fans at the Azadi Stadium supporting the Iranian giants and this could just prove to be Al Duhail’s toughest test yet.

Recent form

Persepolis 2-1 Nassaji Mazandaran (Persian Gulf Pro League)
Al Duhail 1-0 Persepolis (AFC Champions League)
Sanat Naft 1-1 Persepolis (Persian Gulf Pro League)
Persepolis 0-0 Naft Masjed Soleyman (Persian Gulf Pro League)
Esteghlal Khuzestan 0-0 Persepolis (Persian Gulf Pro League)

Al Duhail 2-1 Al Kharaitiyat (QSL Cup)
Qatar SC 2-3 Al Duhail (Qatar Stars League)
Al Duhail 1-0 Persepolis (AFC Champions League)
Al Duhail 0-0 Al Rayyan (Qatar Stars League)
Al Duhail 6-0 Al Khor (Qatar Stars League)

Player to watch: Nam Tae-hee (Al Duhail)

Nam Tae-hee was in brilliant form on his return to the Korea Republic side over the past week.

After missing out on the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Nam Tae-hee has had plenty to smile about recently following a successful recall to the Korea Republic squad under new coach Paulo Bento.

Having already shown how good a player he is on a weekly basis for Al Duhail, Nam had no problems replicating his form on the international stage and played a starring role in a 2-0 win over Costa Rica, winning the penalty that led to the Taegeuk Warriors’ opener before grabbing the sealer following a fine run and finish.

Perhaps the biggest indication of his playmaking abilities was the fact that Bento fielded him in the central playmaker role, while Europe-based duo Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan occupied the wider attacking berths.

Preventing Nam from operating at his usual level – a task that will surely be handed to Kamyabinia – would be the first step in Persepolis’ quest to end Al Duhail’s magnificent streak.

Gabriel Tan’s prediction: “Despite Al Duhail’s all-conquering ways throughout the campaign, this is proving to be a tough one to call, especially with a vociferous home crowd behind Persepolis.

“The romantic in me would love to see Al Duhail set a new ACL record of ten consecutive wins, but my head says a 1-1 draw which would still set up an all-Qatari clash in the last four.”