AFC – KUALA LUMPUR, As both quarter-final fixtures of West Asia side in the 2018 AFC Champions League bring Iranian and Qatari clubs head to head, the-AFC.com remembers five times teams from the two nations faced off in recent years.
For the first time since the introduction of the East v West final in 2013, all four teams in the West Asian quarter-finals come from just two countries, offering us the opportunity to watch two tasty IR Iran v Qatar encounters, as Tehran giants Estaghlal and Persepolis face Al Sadd and Al Duhail respectively.
Throughout the years, teams from the two nations have produced some classics when they met. Here are four memorable matches between them from recent editions of the competition.
Sepahan 2-4 Al Sadd* (2011 – Quarter-finals)
In the quarter-finals of the 2011 AFC Champions League, Sepahan threatened to complete one of the greatest comebacks in tournament history, but were denied at the end by a defiant Al Sadd.
The Qatari club were awarded a 3-0 win in Isfahan after their opponents were found to have fielded an ineligible player, and were huge favourites to progress to the next stage as a result.
It took Sepahan just seven minutes to break the deadlock in Doha, however, and it was apparent that the Iranian side truly believed they could overturn what seemed an insurmountable deficit.
Just before the half hour mark, Hassan Ashjari made it 2-0 amid silence at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium; the momentum had well and truly shifted now.
This set up a frantic second half in which Sepahan threw everything at the opposition, but their overzealousness in attack allowed Mamadou Niang to strike a killer blow in the 86th minute to seal a 4-2 aggregate win for Al Sadd.
Foolad 2-2 Al Sadd* (2014 – Round of 16)
2014 witnessed another thrilling comeback attempt , this time in the Round of 16. Foolad played out a 0-0 draw with Al Sadd in the first leg in Doha, and were looking forward to having their supporters behind them for the second leg. Shockingly, Al Sadd raced into a 2-0 lead inside 30 minutes, leaving the home support stunned.
In the 77th minute, however, Brazilian striker Chimba converted from the spot to cut the visitors’ advantage in half, and give his team a slight glimmer of hope. Ten minutes later, he scored again, and Foolad were just one goal away from the quarter-finals.
Despite their best efforts, the hosts failed to break down Al Sadd for a third time and exited the tournament, albeit with their heads held high.
Al Sadd would eventually be knocked-out in the following round, losing to Al Hilal 1-0. Foolad, meanwhile, have only played in the AFC Champions League once since, in 2015 when they were eliminated at the group stage.
Lekhwiya v Persepolis (2015 – Group Stage)
Many players from this year’s quarter-final clash between Al Duhail and Persepolis will remember playing having faced off in the competition as Lekhwiya (now Al Duhail) met their Iranian counterparts in the 2015 group stage.
Persepolis opened their campaign with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over their visitors, Mohsen Bengar opened the scoring at the hour mark before the late Hadi Norouzi doubled his side’s lead six minutes later and Mohammad Nouri completed the rout from a spot-kick seven minutes from time.
Norouzi passed away following a heart attack eight months after that game, while Bengar and Nouri have since left the club.
The return fixture two months later saw Lekhwiya put on an impressive counter-attacking display to exact revenge in Doha with three second-half goals. Youssef Msekni headed the Qataris in front before Nam Tae-hee added a second and Ali Afif made it 3-0 in added time.
All three players remain on Al Duhail’s books, although Msekni is sidelined with an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury suffered in April.
Lekhwiya 2-1 Esteghlal Khuzestan (2017)
Fresh from their first league title just five years after the club’s founding in 2011, Esteghlal Khuzestan gave a good account of themselves in the 2017 AFC Champions League, where they reached the knockout stage before losing to eventual finalists Al Hilal.
In the group stage, the Iranian club held Lekhwiya, now Al Duhail after merging with El Jaish in 2017, to a 1-1 draw in Ahvaz, as they signalled their intent to challenge for top spot in Group B.
In the return fixture, Aloys Nong fired Esteghlal Khuzestan into an early lead, as the visitors began to believe that a win was possible.
Nevertheless, Nam Tae-hee and Almoez Ali each scored once late in the first half to put Lekhwiya in the lead, and the Qataris held on to cement their lead in the standings.
Eshteghlal Khuzestan went on to qualify for the Round of 16 as group runners-up before losing 4-2 on aggregate to Al Hilal.