Persepolis reach Asian Champions League final after clash of the titans

Persepolis reach Asian Champions League final after clash of the titans
Blog: Tehran's Persepolis drew with Doha's Al-Sadd in the Asian Champions League, sending them through on aggregate to the coveted finals.
5 min read
24 Oct, 2018
The biggest and most important match in the Middle East's football calendar so far this year kicked off on Tuesday evening in Tehran, with Persepolis and Al-Sadd meeting for the Asian Champions League semi-final second leg.

The Azadi stadium was rammed with 100,000 fans, and another 40,000 more were waiting outside, looking for tickets.

Persepolis won the first leg in Doha 1-0, and were pushing for an historic qualification for the Champions League final.

But it didn't start well for the Iranians. Baghdad Bounedjah, the in-form Algerian of Qatar's Al-Sadd, scored after 16 minutes.

The thousands of screaming fans urged Persepolis onwards - until Siamak Nemati equalised in the 49th minute after a wonderful play by Nigerian Godwin Mensah.

A 1-1 draw was enough to send Persepolis to the final, winning 2-1 on aggregate.

Persepolis was always a club looking to break barriers. From their stubborn standing up to demands made by the all-powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps to change their name into something more "revolutionary identified", to the passionate fans who flood the stadium.

Can the red side of Tehran make history again?

The two-leg victory over what is probably the best team in West Asia was an impressive achievement. Al-Sadd of Qatar had fielded Xavi, formerly of Barcelona, alongside Gabi, formerly of Atletico Madrid, and Bounedjah, Asia's top scorer.

Now the Iranians wait to see who will win the other semi-final, between Suwon from South Korea and Kashima Antlers from Japan.

Persepolis will be the first Iranian club in the Champions League final since 2009, when Zob Ahan lost to South Korea's Seongnam. The last Iranian club to win the tournament was PAS Tehran in 1991. Can the red side of Tehran make history again?

Amoory out

Football is a sport where a second of inattention could change the fortune of a nation.

On Saturday night, Al-Hilal were five minutes into the Riyadh derby against at Al-Shabab when the UAE's hopes for the 2019 Asian Cup were dealt a serious blow.

Omar "Amoory" Abdulrahman, the Emirati football star, suffered a severe knee injury while stretching to reach a pass, and colliding with Romanian defender Valerica Garman.

Amoory left the pitch in tears, grasping the severity of his injury, while Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus was trying to console him.

The player went for CT scans on Tuesday, but the official results were what the Asian football community had feared: Amoory has torn a ligament, and will have to go through surgery. His return date is unclear but he will miss the 2019 Asian Cup that will be played in January in his home nation.

Amoory is the Emirates' national team leader, and with the Asian Cup right around the corner, Alberto Zaccheroni, the UAE's Italian coach, has got himself a serious headache. 

For years the Emirates have aspired to become the new striking force of Middle Eastern football, with the 2019 Asian Cup being targeted as its most important showcase.

It was expected Amoory, the prince of Arab football, would be the face of a winning national campaign. 

Turki Al-Sheikh, the shady Saudi football supremo, was quoted saying he would take care of Amoory at the world's best clinics for footballers.

Omar Abdulrahman is one of the most skilful players of our generation, though this injury now appears to finally confirm he won't get the opportunity to play in Europe - or to help the UAE in its hour of footballing need.

A broken nose and a career ended

In addition to Amoory's injury, the Saudi Pro League provided another worrying moment during the past weekend.

After the 1-1 draw between Ittihad Jeddah and Ohod, an unpleasant event took place in the players' tunnel. A brawl between Ohod's Hussein Abdul Ghani, the 41-year-old Saudi national team defender, and Ittihad's Hassan Muath Fallatah resulted in a broken nose for the veteran player.

Abdul Ghani rose to prominence after playing against Brazil in Saudi Arabia's previous friendly tournament

It is been claimed that Abdul Ghani was provoking Fallatah through the match, and the tension exploded after the final whistle. Fallatah, while younger (32) than Abdul Ghani, is still an experienced player.

The Saudi Pro League's disciplinary committee handed Fallatah a two-year suspension and a fine of 100,000 Saudi Reals ($26,600) for his violent assault on Abdul Ghani. It is considered a severe punishment, but there is quite a consensus around it in the Saudi football community.

Abdul Ghani rose to prominence after playing against Brazil in Saudi Arabia's previous friendly tournament. In that appearance Abdul Ghani not only turned the oldest ever to wear the Green Falcons kit, but also played his third match against the Brazilians after also facing them in 1997 and 1999.

Tunisian change

The Tunisian national coach, Faouzi Benzarti, was surprisingly sacked earlier this week, despite being in charge of the Carthage Eagles for only three matches - which Tunisia won.

Benzarti, one of the most notable North African managers on the scene, is seen as a stubborn and negative character among the players, according to local media reports. It is believed that the players were not fully committed to the coach or his methods, and were not happy by the way the team played against Niger and Eswatini.

The names lined up to replace him are quite interesting and indicate the Tunisian FA is going for a much younger blood of candidates for the job.

Among the coaches that have been touted as possible options, there is Sabri Lamouchi, a French coach of Tunisian descent who played for Parma and France and coached the Ivory Coast national team; and Radhi Jaidi, former Tunisian legend, who played most his career in England and is currently Southampton's U23 coach.

Benzarti himself has indicated that he was ashamed and surprised by the actions of the FA. "I was informed of the news via a phone call," Benzarti told a local news station in Tunisia. "This is un-dignifying to me and to Tunisian coaches. They would not have done this had it been a foreign coach," he added.  

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here