Alekasir’s late header knocks Al Sadd out of AFC Champions League
Al Sadd, the 2011 champions, were eliminated from the 2020 AFC Champions League yesterday courtesy of a late Issa Alekasir header which handed Iran’s Persepolis a 1-0 win in their Round of 16 game held at the Education City Stadium.
The 30-year-old Alekasir found the net in the 88th minute with a glancing header, having earlier hit the woodwork twice, to send the Tehran-based Persepolis, beaten finalists in 2018, into the quarter-finals of the competition for the third time in their history.
The encounter was the seventh AFC Champions League game between the two sides with the Iranian team previously winning on three occasions and the Qatari side twice with one draw.
Persepolis, who also edged out the Qatari giants in the semi-finals two years ago, will now be joined in Monday’s draw for the quarter-finals by Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr following their 1-0 victory over compatriots Al Taawoun in the other game of the day.
The defeat was a significant disappointment in the AFC Champions League for Al Sadd who had the "home advantage" due to the new format of the tournament. Their hopes of reaching at least the semi-finals for the third time in a row came to an unexpected end inside the recently opened 2022 FIFA World Cup stadium.
“We made a lot of mistakes today and at this stage of the competition minor details count,” said Al Sadd’s Hassan Al Haydos. “We would have won today had we followed the instructions of our coach, but we’re all responsible for this loss.”
Al Sadd, semi-finalists in the two last editions, enjoyed possession for most parts of the first half but their chances were few and far between as the Iranians pegged them to taking shots from outside the box. Santi Cazorla drew a save from goalkeeper Hamed Lak in the 13th minute, and Mohammed Jadoua’s effort from a distance went agonizingly close on the wrong side of the post.
Abdelkareem Hassan, Akram Afif, and Tarek Salman also got close to scoring before Alekasir clipped the crossbar at the other end two minutes after the hour mark.
The Persepolis man was narrowly off target again seven minutes later when, on another counter-attack, Bashar Rasan found his teammate eight meters from goal only for his first-time effort to thunder against the woodwork.
With 15 minutes left, Afif dribbled down the left flank and cut back to Nam Tae-hee who took it the first time with his left, but goalkeeper Lak was present to save.
Afif tried his luck again in the 82nd minute, cutting inside from the left but Lak was again untroubled, comfortably saving.
With two minutes remaining, however, Alekasir finally broke the deadlock as he steered Omid Alishah’s corner beyond Saad Al Sheeb, and Persepolis saw out the final minutes despite Siamak Nemati’s late red card for dangerous play.
“I think the game was really equal. We had more possession, more shots, and better opportunities, but as I told the players, in this competition you make just one mistake and you’re out,” Al Sadd’s coach Xavi said after the loss.
“We made a mistake from a set-piece, a corner, and we didn’t focus. This is football. We were focused until the last minute, but one mistake and we are out. We have to accept it and learn from our mistakes.
“It’s a pity because after a game like that, normally you have to win. Sometimes, football is not fair.”
Ruing the absence of VAR in the tournament that could have possibly changed some of the calls, the former Barcelona star said, "In my humble opinion, it's a big shame that this competition, the best in Asia, does not have VAR. It's a big shame."
“If we had VAR today, there would be a penalty for us. I don’t want to talk about referees because I know that their job is really difficult, and sometimes football is very fast, and you have to make decisions in seconds. But VAR helps the referees a lot. If we had VAR today, we would be talking about a different result," he added.
Al Nassr and Persepolis advance alongside Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor and Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia to the quarter-finals of the competition, which is being played in Doha in a centralized format due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Teams in the eastern half of the continent are scheduled to face off from mid-November with the final to be played on December 19.
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