AFC: Persepolis aims to end 27-year trophy drought in ACL

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Tasnim – DOHA, Persepolis football club of Iran has a rich history in the AFC Champions League.

Reaching the AFC Champions League final for the second time in three years, Persepolis is aiming to end a 27-year continental trophy drought for Iranian clubs, since the now defunct PAS Tehran lifted the 1992-93 Asian Club Championship trophy.

Wounds of losing the 2018 final to Japan’s Kashima Antlers remain fresh in the memory of the Red Army’s fans, but a largely unchanged group of players will aim to go one step further when they take on Ulsan Hyundai at Al Janoub Stadium on Saturday, reported.

Persepolis has been present in the knock-out stages at three of the past five editions of the AFC Champions League, but prior to that run, its most successful era in Asian football dated to the 1990s when it excelled at the Asian Cup Winners Cup, winning the 1990-91 title and finishing runner-up the following year.

With the launch of the AFC Champions League, Persepolis took part in the inaugural edition in 2002-03, but bowed out at the group stage, finishing second behind Group D winners Pakhtakor.

It would have to wait until 2009 to return to the competition, this time successfully navigating the group stage, but it was again an Uzbek side that knocked the team out of the competition; Rivaldo’s penalty in front of 95,000 fans at Azadi Stadium consigned Persepolis to a Round-of-16- exit at the hands of Bunyodkor.

Two years later, a disappointing campaign saw Persepolis finish bottom of their group, but things started to improve for the Tehran giant in 2012 as it collected 11 points to finish runner-up in Group D behind Al-Hilal and return to the knock-out stages. Al-Ittihad proved to be a hurdle too high for Persepolis as it bowed out with a 3-0 defeat in the Round of 16.

The run of Round-of-16 exits continued in 2015 as a second-place finish in the group saw Persepolis pitted against runner-up from the previous edition, Al-Hilal. A 1-0 win for Persepolis at Azadi Stadium was rendered meaningless after the Saudis stormed to a 3-0 triumph in the return leg.

It was in 2017 that the seeds for the current side was really sown as a Persepolis side featuring the likes of Jalal Hosseini, Bashar Resan and Vahid Amiri, all of whom remain key cogs in the 2020 team as well as stars who departed for pastures new like FC Porto’s Mehdi Taremi and Antwerp goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand went all the way to the semi-finals.

Just like in 2015, Al-Hilal proved to be too powerful for Persepolis, with an Omar Khrbin hat-trick consigning Persepolis to a 4-0 defeat in the first leg and the Iranians could only muster a 2-2 draw in the second leg.

Lessons were learnt and in 2018, with Ali Alipour confidently filling the Taremi-shaped hole in the Persepolis attack, they went on to eliminate Al-Jazira, Al-Duhail and Al-Sadd in the knock-out stages to set up a continental final against Kashima Antlers.

Glory was not to be, however, as the Japanese side defended a 2-0 lead from the first leg to hold onto a goalless draw at Azadi Stadium and extend Persepolis’ wait for the elusive title.

Further departures including those of head coach Branko Ivankovic, Beiranvand and Alipour among others meant 2019 was a year to rebuild and a disappointing group stage exit was put behind as former defender turned head coach Yahya Golmohammadi led the troops to a return to the pinnacle of continental football, a final showdown against Ulsan Hyundai in Doha.

With just a final hurdle to overcome, will the experiences of the past three years combined with an injection of fresh blood into their ranks in the likes of goalkeeper Hamed Lak and center-back Hossein Kanaani be enough to bring home the coveted trophy, or will Ulsan Hyundai extend the Iranian wait for continental glory?

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