Al Sadd hold off stubborn Esteghlal to reach ACL semis

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Al Sadd have seen off a resilient Esteghlal with a 2-2 draw between the two sides on Monday enough to send them through to the AFC Champions League semi-finals 5-3 on aggregate.

With a 3-1 lead from the first leg, Al Sadd were always favourites to negotiate their way past the return encounter on home soil at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium and book their place in the last four.

It initially went according to script for the Qatari hosts as they broke the deadlock in the 27th minute after excellent hold-up play by Baghdad Bounedjah.

Latching Hassan Al-Haidos’ right-wing cross, the Algeria international kept his composure despite being surrounded by a sea of defenders before his layoff picked out the late run of Akram Afif, who coolly finished past Mehdi Ramati into the bottom corner.

A cool finish by Akram hands Al Sadd the lead.

But, just five minutes later, an error by Al Sadd goalkeeper Meshal Eisa – who had scored a comical own-goal in the first leg – handed Esteghlal the equaliser.

A delivery from the left by Humam Tariq was cleverly brought down by Rouhollah Bagheri and, while his shot was straight at Meshal, the 20-year-old somehow let it skim off his fingers and into goal.

Celebration time as Bagheri gives Esteghlal a glimmer of hope.

Remarkably, the Iranian side then took the lead four minutes into the second half after Morteza Tabrizi climbed high inside the box to meet Farshid Esmaeili’s corner with a downward header into the back of the net.

However, the visitors were dealt a huge blow a minute later when they were reduced to ten men, as Rouzbeh Cheshmi was sent off for a second bookable offence.

To their credit, they continued to push forward despite the numerical deficit in search of a third goal which would have taken the contest into extra-time, although it did leave plenty of space at the back for their opponents to exploit.

Korea Republic international Jung Woo-young keeps things tidy for Al Sadd.

Time and time again, Al Sadd – with 21-year-old livewire Akram leading the way – threatened the punish Esteghlal, only to be denied by a combination of Ramati, the woodwork and same wasteful play in the final third.

Nonetheless, a blistering counter in the 90th minute saw them awarded a penalty after Akram was played in by Bounedjah and took the ball round Ramati, before being dragged down inside the area as he was about to pull the trigger.

With 11 goals in the Champions League already to his name prior to Monday’s game, it was no surprise that Bounedjah stepped up to the spot and he calmly sent Ramati the wrong way to secure his side’s passage into the last four, where they will meet more Iranian opposition in the form of Persepolis.

AL SADD: Meshal Eisa, Hamid Ismail, Ro-Ro, Boualem Khoukhi, Abdelkarim Hassan (Ali Asad 90+4’), Gabi, Jung Woo-young (Salem Al-Hajri 90+4’), Hassan Al-Haidos (Yaseer Abubaker 70’), Xavi, Akram Afif, Baghdad Bounedjah.

ESTEGHLAL: Mehdi Ramati, Khosro Heydari, Pejman Montazeri, Rouzbeh Cheshmi, Milad Zakipour, Humam Tariq (Vouria Ghafouri 76’), Ali Karimi, Mehdi Ghaedi (Allahyar Sayyadmanesh 46’), Farshid Esmaeili, Rouhollah Bagheri (Armin Sohrabian 56’), Morteza Tabrizi.