Analysis: Persepolis’ persistence trumps Al Jazira’s resilience

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AFC – TEHRAN, Persepolis booked their place in the 2018 AFC Champions League last eight for a second season running after edging Al Jazira 2-1 at Azadi Stadium on Monday.

Last year’s semi-finalists had to reverse a 3-2 defeat from the first leg and needed 89 minutes to do so after Ahmed Nourollahi’s opener was cancelled out by Romarinho. Skipper Seyed Jalal Hosseini delivered the all-important winner to the relief of the 80,000 fans in the stands.

Persepolis take the game to Al Jazira

Coming into the home leg a goal behind, Persepolis expectedly dominated from start to finish, enjoying over 68 percent of the possession and completing double their opponents’ passes.

Al Jazira were happy to sit deep and defend their area, while attempting to inflict damage on the counter. As a result, more than 35 percent of the action was concentrated in the visitors’ third, while only 14 percent took place at the other end of the pitch.

Persepolis’ dominance produced scoring chances, with the Iranians attempting 21 shots, seven times as many as Al Jazira. A third of their efforts were directed between the sticks, and eventually two found the back of the net. Just enough to carry them through into the quarter-finals.

Crossing galore

Coach Branko Ivankovic’s instructions were clear from the start; cross, cross and cross again. And Persepolis players did. Left-back Mohammad Ansari led the pack with 13 crosses as the team racked up 50 crosses to Al Jazira’s six.

Accuracy was not lacking, either, as a third of Persepolis’ crosses found a target in the box. A combination of resilience defending and heroic goalkeeping from Al Jazira’s Ali Khaseif was the only thing to stand between Ivankovic’s men and a bigger score on Monday.

For all their crossing, Persepolis only managed to break down Al Jazira’s defences when they tried something different. Nourollahi stunned Khaseif with a long-range effort midway through the second half before Hosseini capitalised on a poor defensive clearance to end the Emiratis’ hopes one minute before the end of regular time.

Defensively resolute, offensively absent

Henk ten Cate’s match plan for his last game in charge of Al Jazira consisted largely of absorbing Persepolis’ pressure then hitting on the counter, an approach that had served the Dutchman well in his three years at the helm.

While the defensive part of the plan was executed to perfection for over an hour, the Emirati side struggled to carry out the attacking part. Mbark Boussoufa, Ali Mabkhout and Romarinho all failed to get a single touch inside Persepolis’ box all game (see below touch map).

Only once their defensive resilience was broken in the 63rd minute did ten Cate go for a more adventurous approach, introducing Ahmed Al Hashmi as a fourth attacking option. The move worked instantly as the substitute set Romarinho for the equaliser, but cracks appeared at the back as Hosseini dealt Al Jazira the fatal blow at the death.

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