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Persepolis break Duhail hearts, face Al Sadd in semi-final

Tehran (AFP) – Iranian giants Persepolis broke Al Duhail’s sequence of nine straight victories to storm into the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League with a stirring come-from-behind 3-2 aggregate win on Monday.

They will now clash with another Qatar club, Al Sadd, in the semis next month after the 2011 champions edged out Iran’s Esteghlal 5-3 on aggregate following their second-leg 2-2 draw in Doha. Al Sadd had won the first leg 3-1.

Earlier, Persepolis had staged a remarkable second half recovery in Tehran.

Trailing 1-0 after the first leg and then conceding a 33rd minute goal they scored three goals after the break to take the second leg 3-1.

Qatar Stars League champions Al Duhail had been relentless in their campaign, winning all their previous nine matches right from the group stage before suffering their only defeat.

Had they won, they would have set an AFC Champions League record of 10 consecutive victories, overtaking Ulsan Hyundai’s nine set during the 2012 season when the Korean side won the title.

Al Duhail went ahead, somewhat luckily, through Karim Boudiaf after Persepolis defender Shojae Khalilzadeh’s attempted clearance from a free-kick bounced off the former’s back and into the net. 

Both teams failed to come up with a goal-worthy move for the remaining part of the first half, but the pace picked up in the second ring which the hosts were clearly the better side.

In the 56th minute, Bashar Resan’s effort from the edge of the box was tipped away by Al Duhail goalkeeper Amine Lecomte although the resulting corner produced the equaliser. 

The cross saw the ball bounce off the heads of Godwin Mensha and Ali Alipour and fall perfectly for captain Seyed Jalal Hossein to volley home from close, much to the joy of the near capacity crowd. 

Persepolis went ahead in the 76th minute when Alipour shook off the defence and shot goalward, forcing Sultan al-Brake to attempt a last-ditch clearance from the line which unfortunately sent the ball into the net.

By this time the crowd were on their feet and Persepolis didn’t have to wait long for the crucial third goal.

Nigerian Mensha, one of their stalwarts in their current campaign, latched on to a long clearance from Alireza Beiranvand and left two defenders chasing shadows before dribbling past goalkeeper Lecomte and nudging the ball in with a simple finish. 

– Bounedjah stars for Al Sadd –

Later in Doha, Baghdad Bounedjah was again the star for Al Sadd, providing an assist and scoring from a penalty late in the dying minutes of the game to help his side clinch a 2-2 draw.

Algerian Bouendjah, the top-scorer in the tournament with 12 goals so far, slipped in a pass from the right and Akram Afif lashed home from close past goalkeeper Mehdi Rehmati in the 27th minute. 

The lead lasted only five minutes as Al Sadd goalkeeper Meshaal Aissa Barsham failed cleanly to stop a shot from Esteghlal’s Rouhollah Bagheri and the ball fell into the net.

The visitors went on the attack in the second half and took lead for the first time in the 49th minute when Morteza Tabrizi rose above the defence to head in a Farshid Esmaeili pass.

Esteghlal were gaining in confidence, but suffered a major blow when Rouzbeh Cheshmi was sent off with his second bookable offence in the 50th minute.

Afif then saw his shot hit the bar in the 55th minute, and with Esteghlal struggling with only 10 men the last thing they should have done was concede a penalty.

However that was exactly what happened when Rehmati brought down Afif in stoppage time, and Bounedjah blasted home to help Al Sadd earn a draw and progress on aggregate.

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