Al Nassr, Persepolis in semis of Asian Champions League


Doha (AFP) – Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr advanced to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League with a commanding 2-0 victory over compatriots and 2012 runners-up Al Ahli on Wednesday.

They will meet Persepolis on Saturday for a spot in the final after the Iranian giants reached the last four for the third time in four years by knocking out Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor, also by a 2-0 margin.

Clubs in western Asia are playing in a bio-secure bubble in Qatar while the hosts of the eastern zone matches are yet to be announced.

Wednesday’s matches saw VAR being used for the first time in the tournament after Al Sadd coach Xavi had lashed out at the Asian Football Confederation following his team’s exit on Sunday following a 1-0 defeat against Persepolis.

On the field on Wednesday, Argentine midfielder Pity Martinez put the Riyadh-based Al Nassr ahead in the 13th minute – his first goal for the team – and Abdulfattah Asiri increased the margin 10 minutes after the break at the Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Stadium.

Al Nassr made the semi-finals of the event for the first since it was launched in its current format in 2002, although they have been the runners-up in 1995 when the tournament was known as the Asian Club Championship.

Al Ahli, based in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, were the first side to reach the last-16 in Doha and had been in the final eight years ago when they were beaten by Ulsan Hyundai.

However on Wednesday, it was Al Nassr all the way as they produced their first chance with the game just a minute old but Martinez’s chip from close was cleared from the goalline by Abdelbaset al-Hindi.

Martinez was not to be denied in the 13th minute though as he collected a pass form al-Ghannam just outside the six-yard box, got past his marker and drilled the ball under the diving Al Ahli goalkeeper Mohamed al-Owais.

Al Nassr could have consolidated their position a minute before half-time as Asiri cut in from the right and unleashed a powerful shot missed the target narrowly.

There was a brief spell immediately after the break when Al Ahli seemed to have got their game together and created problems for their rivals.

Al Nassr, however, soon regained control and found the target again, this time Sultan al-Ghannam finding Asiri and the winger firing home with a lofted shot.

Al Ahli’s Talismanic Syrian forward Omar al-Somah was unlucky not to score two minutes from time as his shot hit the crossbar after goalkeeper Brad Jones was beaten.

Meanwhile, Issa Alekasir was once again the star for Persepolis with a second half brace against Pakhtakor.

Alekasir had scored the all-important goal with a brilliant header against Al Sadd to lead his team into the quarter-finals on Sunday.

The game was hardly 15 minutes old when Pakhtakor’s Jaloliddin Masharipov was sent off with a straight red card following a foul on Kamal Kamyabinia.

The decision was arrived at after the referee referred to VAR, making it the first VAR-reviewed red card in the history of the tournament.

After sending a header just wide earlier, Alekasir struck first in the 49th minute with a fine goal from close, falling away as he applied the finish to an excellent assist from Siamak Nemati on the right.

Persepolis doubled their lead in the 66th minute when Alekasir found the net from close after a great pass from Saeed Aghaei.

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