Persepolis, Al Hilal set for scintillating quarter-final [Preview]

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AFC – RIYADH, AFC Champions League runners-up Persepolis FC lock horns with 2019 champions Al Hilal SFC at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium in the second match of the 2021 quarter-finals on Saturday.

The two sides have been the dominant forces in West Asia over the past few years, with one of them reaching the final each year since 2017.

Al Hilal were beaten by Urawa Red Diamonds in 2017 and lifted the trophy in 2019 at the expense of the same side, while Persepolis came runners-up to Kashima Antlers in 2018 and to Ulsan Hyundai in 2020.

The two quarter-finalists have been just as dominant on the domestic front, with Persepolis recording five consecutive Iran Pro League titles and Al Hilal winning four out of the past five league titles in the Saudi Pro League.

“I believe both teams are ambassadors of football in Iran and Saudi Arabia. This match will be like an AFC Champions League final thanks to the quality of both sides,” said Persepolis head coach Yahya Golmohammadi.

“We have to show our real face and play with the spirit of Persepolis FC tomorrow to get a result that meets our ambitions and those of our fans.

“We face some difficulties because the Iran Pro League hasn’t started yet, so we are lacking competitive match fitness. We tried to make up for it by playing many friendly matches and doing our best in training.”

While the two teams are powers to reckon with, the head-to-head record heavily favours Al Hilal who have won three of their eight matches against Persepolis in the AFC Champions League, with the Iranian champions only winning once and four games ending in a draw.

“The match will be evenly balanced between two of the best teams in the competition. Al Hilal are 2019 champions and Persepolis are always present in the final stages,” said Al Hilal head coach Leonardo Jadim.

“Al Hilal is a strong team with a quality squad. We always have many options to choose from, so we will depend on the players who are most prepared for the game, regardless of absences.

“We are missing key players like Yasser Al Shahrani and Abdullah Otayf, but the available players are really good and can do a good job in replacing them.”

Leading the line for Al Hilal is French forward Bafetimbi Gomis, the 2019 AFC Champions League top scorer has four goals to his name in the current edition, and he has been the competition’s standout marksman since his debut in 2019, scoring 15 goals; a tally only matched by Al Nassr’s Abderazzak Hamdallah.

Persepolis may not have a big-name foreign forward in their ranks, with their last 33 goals in the competition being scored by Iranian players, but in Mehdi Torabi they possess the 2021 AFC Champions League’s leading assist provider, with the winger creating five goals this term plus scoring a last-minute goal to send them into the quarter-finals with a narrow 1-0 win over Tajikistan’s Istiklol FC.

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