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Analysis: Compact Persepolis squeeze through to the final

Friday, October 26, 2018

Tehran: Persepolis booked their place in the 2018 AFC Champions League final after a 1-1 draw against Al Sadd gave them a 2-1 aggregate victory thanks to another disciplined display at Azadi Stadium.

The Islamic Republic of Iran side came into the match with a 1-0 lead from the first leg in Doha, and despite conceding 16 minutes into the game, they kept their composure, remaining disciplined and retaliating through Siamak Nemati's 49th minute strike which was enough to send them into the final.

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Compact midfield smothers Al Sadd

Branko Ivankovic set up his team in a 4-4-2 formation with the central midfield duo of Kamal Kamyabinia and Bashar Resan flanked by Siamak Nemati and Ahmed Nourollahi.

That was at least the set up on paper, but in practice both Nemati and Nourollahi tucked in deeper (Persepolis players in light blue below), creating a tighter unit in the middle of the park that helped Persepolis counter the threat of Al Sadd’s technically gifted midfield that included the likes of Xavi, Gabi and Jung Woo-young.

Ivankovic’s plan was largely successful in limiting the threat Al Sadd posed from midfield, as the above trio only made six passes into Persepolis penalty box all night.

Brilliant Beiranvant protects Persepolis

With four minutes till the final whistle, Jung Woo-young sent a perfectly weighted cross from the left to the advancing Xavi who had found a pocket of space inside Persepolis box. The Spaniard connected with the header and half the stadium thought he had scored.

Beiranvand produced a top drawer save to deny Al Sadd a late winner. The save epitomised the IR Iran international goalkeeper’s performance on the night.

Despite the early strike from Baghdad Bounedjah, Beiranvand was present throughout whenever Al Sadd managed to get past Persepolis’ tight defence. He made four saves and two clearances to help his side reach the final.

Afif Neutralised

Ivankovic deployed Shojae Khalilzadeh, traditionally a centre-back, at right-back to counter the threat of Afram Afif, with captain Hosseini in support as the right sided central defender.

The double act was largely successful in neutralising one of Al Sadd’s key attacking outlets. The Qatari international’s passing accuracy was 75%, a significant drop from his competition average of 81%. That percentage dropped to 65% in opposition half, again well below his average of 73%.

Afif had to wait until the 50th minute to get his only sight of goal, producing a weak shot from the edge of the box that Beiranvand handled comfortably. It remained his only effort until the final whistle.

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