0554 GMT January 22, 2018
Persepolis is enjoying its best-ever run in the competition after reaching the quarterfinals for the first time and the evidence from the first leg shows the Iranian champion is not going to let it end without a fight, the-afc.com reported.
Two goals down with 20 minutes to play, Shoja Khalilzadeh and substitute Godwin Mensha netted to force a 2-2 draw and to set up a mouthwatering return fixture in Abu Dhabi.
All eyes will be on striker Mehdi Taremi, who scored six times in Group D as Persepolis finished runner-up behind Al Hilal but ahead of Al Rayyan and Al Wahda, before Iranian side overcame Lekhwiya in the last 16.
The Iranian international forward has not found the back of the net since the group stage, but the arrival of Nigerian Mensha and the presence of Ali Alipour and Vahid Amiri goes some way toward easing the burden on the prolific marksman.
Meanwhile, after letting a two-goal lead slip in the first leg, Al Ahli will look for a positive response as the Saudi side aims to return to the semifinals for the first time since 2012, when it eventually finished as runner-up to Korea Republic’s Ulsan Hyundai.
The Jeddah-based side has been in fine form this year, advancing from a group that comprised Al Ain, Zob-Ahan and Bunyodkor, before seeing off namesakes Al Ahli of the UAE in the Round of 16.
With striker Omar al-Somah, fresh from leading Syria to the playoff stage of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, and the recently acquired Brazilian Leonardo both netting in the first game against Persepolis, Sergei Rebrov’s team looks well equipped to challenge for the continent’s top club honor once more.
Elsewhere, Claudemir is another new Brazilian signing who arrived after spending two seasons at Club Brugge in Belgium, while captain Taiseer Al Jassam should return after helping Saudi Arabia progress to a first FIFA World Cup since 2006.
Jalal Hosseini pinpointed Persepolis’ fighting spirit and huge support as the reasons for the club’s success in the AFC Champions League ahead of the Tehran-based side’s quarterfinal second leg fixture.
Club captain Hosseini was suspended for the first leg last month and will hope to recover in time from injury to lead his side in the second league fixture.
“We may not be among the richest clubs in Asia, especially compared to clubs in the Persian Gulf region, but there’s no doubt we have the biggest fan base,” said Hosseini.
“And Persepolis has the best support in Asian football; because of this support, we fight. It gives us extra motivation and determination to make sure we can get great results.
“This is what we have always tried to do and will continue to do.”
Hosseini, who has more than 100 caps for Iran and is part of the squad that has qualified for next year’s FIFA World Cup, is currently in his second spell with Persepolis.
Having spent two seasons with the club between 2012 and 2014, the defender moved to another Al Ahli, in Qatar, before signing for Naft Tehran in 2015.
After just one campaign back in Iran, he returned to Persepolis, where he helped the side claim the Iranian Persian Gulf Pro League title earlier in the year.