AFC Champions League preview:

Persepolis eyeing double over Istiklol; Sepahan looking to bounce back after AFC ruling

Matchday 5 of the AFC Champions League will see Persian Gulf Pro League clubs Persepolis, Sepahan, and Nassaji Mazandaran back in action in the group stage today and tomorrow.
Iranian top-flight champion Persepolis will be after a second successive victory over FC Istiklol when playing away to the Tajikistani club in Dushanbe’s Central Republican Stadium on Tuesday.
Saeed Sadeqi scored in each half as the Tehran Reds walked away with a 2-0 win in the corresponding fixture two weeks ago to stay second in the Group E table with six points – three adrift of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr, which will be looking to continue its perfect start in the Asian elite clubs competition at Al Duhail.
Yahya Golmohammadi’s side will step into the contest on the back of Thursday’s 2-2 home draw in the Iranian league against San’at Naft Abadan – courtesy of a stoppage-time equalizer for the 10-man visiting side.
The game in Dushanbe will be the first in a hectic fixtures list for the injury-hit Persepolis across five weeks, which will also feature away games at Sepahan, in the domestic league, and Al Nassr and home matches against Al Duhail and Havadar, as well as a Tehran Derby against Esteghlal before mid-November’s international break.
In Group C, Sepahan will have to play the first of the three home matches away from Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Stadium, facing Uzbekistan’s AGMK FC in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium today, after being hit with an AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee ruling on Thursday.
Sepahan was also handed a 3-0 defeat against Saudi side Al Ittihad, while being fined $200,000, after their game was called off minutes before the kickoff on October 3, due to the Iranian club “displaying a military and/or political statue in the area surrounding the field,” which was described by the Asian football governing body as Sepahan’s failure to “act in a politically neutral manner.”
When Sepahan and AGMK squared off in Olmaliq a fortnight ago, in-form fullback Ramin Rezaeian bagged a double, with Reza Asadi also on the scoresheet, as the Isfahan-based club claimed a 3-1 victory.
The AFC verdict, however, left Sepahan third in the table – equal on four points with second-placed Iraqi side Air Force Club – with Al Ittihad on top with maximum points, making today’s game a must win for Jose Morais’s men, if they are to keep their hopes for a place in the knockouts alive.
Portuguese head coach Jose Morais will hope to see his side improve on a recent poor run in the Iranian league, after a 1-1 draw at Nassaji and a shock 3-2 loss to Malavan at home on Thursday ended the club’s five-game winning streak in the start of the new season.
Meanwhile, Nassaji will host Uzbekistan’s Navbahor, eager to end a run of six games without a win, in which Seyyed Mahdi Rahmati’s side was beaten on five occasions – including a 3-0 away loss to Tractor last time out in the domestic league.
The northern Iranian club felt unlucky to leave Namangan on Matchday 4, when a Saber Hardani’s straight red in the second half was followed by Mehrdad Abdi’s OG deep into stoppage time, which led the Uzbek side to a 2-1 comeback victory.
Nassaji is third in Group D with three points, with Saudi giant Al Hilal and Navbahor the top two in table with seven points – separated by goal difference.
Rahmati’s side might face an uphill battle in securing a last-16 spot, but today’s result against Navbahor could still prove decisive in the other two Iranian clubs’ quest for progress as the runners-up in their respective groups.
The five group winners in the West Zone will be joined by three best second-placed teams in the round of 16 of the competition.


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