Al Sadd set for Esteghlal challenge
Tehran: Qatar’s Al Sadd are hopeful of an encouraging result when they take on Esteghlal of Iran in the first leg of the AFC Champions League quarter-finals on Monday.
Al Sadd and Esteghlal faced each other last year in the play-off and it was Esteghlal who knocked out their opponents on penalties to reach the group stage.
Both sides have lifted the Asian Club Championship, Al Sadd in 1989 and Esteghlal two years later. But since the inception of the AFC Champions League, Esteghlal’s best performance was reaching the semi-finals in 2013, while Al Sadd were the last West Asian champions, lifting the trophy in 2011.
Al Sadd were drawn in Group C with Esteghlal’s rivals, Persepolis, and despite firing 11 goals – more than any team in the group – they only managed to finish second behind Persepolis, having lost their final group game in Tehran 0-1.
Braces from Baghdad Bounedjah in the first two games were the highlight of the group campaign as Al Sadd overcame Uzbekistan’s Nasaf and Persepolis, and the Algerian got his third brace in a 2-1 win against UAE’s Al Wasl.
Even at the age of 38, midfield maestro Xavi continues to dominate the middle of the park for Al Sadd. Only two players in the competition, Oscar and Ricardo Goulart, created more chances than the Spaniard’s 22.
Xavi defence splitting passes have set up three goals, but his ball retention has been equally impressive. Only two midfielders have a higher pass accuracy than his 90 percent among those with 100 passes or more in the competition.