AFC Champions League:

Knockout berth jeopardized after Persepolis held by Istiklol

Persepolis will a have a tough job on its hand to progress to the knockout round of the AFC Champions League after a 1-1 away draw against Istiklol in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
Iranian international winger Mahdi Torabi gave Tehran Reds the lead with a sublime free-kick on the half-hour mark, only to see his strike canceled out by Ivorian Senin Sebai 16 minutes from normal time.
Having been hit with a flu sweeping the squad in the buildup to the game, Persepolis clearly looked off the pace in the closing stages of the contest, but will still be frustrated with the two points dropped, which could eventually cost the Iranian top-flight champion – finalist in 2018 and 2020 – a place in the last-16 of the Asian elite clubs competition.
The result left Persepolis second in the Group E table with seven points – five adrift of Saudi side Al Nassr, which walked away with a 3-2 victory over Al Duhail in Al Rayyan to all but secure a top-spot finish in the group with two games to spare.
In the absence of prolific Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo, Brazilian Talisca bagged a hat-trick, with the host’s Philippe Coutinho on the scoresheet twice, as the visitors maintained their perfect start to the competition.
With only three of the runner-up teams across the five West Zone groups qualifying to the knockout phase, Yahya Golmohammdadi’s men will face an uphill battle in the remaining two fixtures.
Persepolis is fourth among the second-placed teams, standing behind Uzbekistan’s Navbahor, which has 10 points in Group D, as well as fellow Persian Gulf Pro League club Sepahan and FC Nasaf, with both sides equal on seven points and enjoying a superior goal difference over the Reds.
Persepolis will take on Al Nassr in Riyadh in three weeks, before welcoming Al Duhail for the final day of the group fixtures on December 5.  
For now, the Iranian capital giant will have to shift focus to the domestic league action ahead of Sunday’s highly-anticipated visit to Sepahan, as the Reds will be looking to end a run of three successive draws in all competitions.
Beaten 3-2 by Malavan at home last time out in the Iranian league, Sepahan will step onto the pitch at the Naqsh-e Jahan Stadium fresh from Monday’s 9-0 demolishing of AGMK in the AFC Champions League.

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