1256 GMT March 19, 2018
Tehran giant Persepolis will look to make a long-awaited mark on the Asian level when the Persian Gulf Pro League champion takes to the pitch against Al Ahli. While the club did reach the semifinals of the Asian Club Championship in 1997, 1998 and 2001, the Iranian side failed to reach the quarterfinals of the revamped AFC Champions League before this year's edition, the-afc.com reported.
The 2017 campaign saw Persepolis successfully navigate a tough group featuring Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s Al Rayyan and the UAE club Al Wahda. Finishing second in the group, Tehran’s Reds took on Doha side Lekhwiya in the Round of 16.
After a goalless first leg, it would take an own goal from Lekhwiya defender Chico Flores in the second leg to take Persepolis to the quarterfinals.
Persepolis has one man to thank in particular for getting this far in the competition and that is Iranian international striker Mehdi Taremi. Despite not scoring in the previous round, the 24-year old has struck six times so far and sits second in the scoring charts behind Al Ain's Omar Abdulrahman.
The focus will turn to Taremi once again as the club aims to conquer further ground in Asia.
Although Al Ahli has never won an Asian title, it was the first Saudi club to reach the final of the Asian Club Championship, back in 1985.
In the title decider, the Jeddah-based club lost to Daewoo Royals of Korea Republic. A similar fate ensued when Al Ahli made its second appearance in a continental final with its 2012 AFC Champions League run, only to lose to another Korean side – Ulsan Hyundai.
Since that disappointment, Al Ahli has not made it past the quarterfinals. This year, Al Ahli will attempt to correct that record.
After finishing second in Group C behind Al Ain, Al Ahli faced its namesakes from the UAE, which was runner-up in the 2015 edition.
Prolific front man Omar al-Somah was unavailable for both ties of the Round of 16 fixture due to injury, but the Saudi side managed to register a convincing 4-2 aggregate victory.
Syrian striker Soma is now back in the squad and will be ready to lead Al Ahli's attack once again after scoring four times in the group stage.
His scoring prowess is well-known and, recently, he was honored by the club for finishing as top scorer for the last three seasons – which should serve as motivation ahead of the big continental clash.
Persepolis will have to host its Saudi counterpart in the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex of Muscat due to political issue between the two countries with the second leg set to be played on September 12.