AFC – TEHRAN, Mame Thiam has insisted that Esteghlal are aiming for a spot in the 2018 AFC Champions League final after the striker’s treble in the 3-1 Round of 16 second leg win over fellow Iranian side Zobahan on Tuesday saw them advance to the quarter-finals 3-2 on aggregate.
The Tehran side conceded in added time in last week’s first leg as a 1-0 defeat in Isfahan left them with plenty to do at Azadi Stadium, where more than 75,000 fans generated a fantastic atmosphere at the Islamic Republic of Iran’s national stadium.
Thiam put the hosts in front from the spot shortly after the 10-minute mark to level the tie on aggregate, before the Senagalese forward’s stunning left-foot effort from distance put them 2-0 on the night four minutes before the interval.
Eighteen minutes into the second half Thiam slotted home after being teed up by Server Djeparov to send the crowd into raptures, but there was stunned silence almost immediately after when Ghasem Haddadifar pulled one back to ensure a nervy finish.
One more goal from Zobahan would have seen the 2010 runners-up progress and Robin Ataya so nearly grabbed it with almost the last kick of the game, but the unmarked substitute fired over at the back post as Esteghlal held out.
“This is a very good win because we know that we are better than our opponent, so we are very happy to achieve this victory,” said Thiam.
“We know we are a good team and now we have to give our maximum to get to the final.”
Thiam’s treble means the striker is now on seven goals for the campaign, after joining Esteghlal in February. He is just two behind the tournament’s joint top scorers Baghdad Bounedjah of Al Sadd and Youssef El Arabi of Al Duhail, with both sides also still in the competition.
It was the fifth time the Tehran side had appeared in the Round of 16, yet they had progressed just once beyond, back in 2013 when they went on to reach the semi-finals.
Tuesday’s win carried extra significance in what was an emotional day for the club. Part of their starting line-up in 2013 was former Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers defender Jlloyd Samuel, who died earlier on Tuesday after being involved in a car crash in England.