Analysis: Perfect Persepolis claim the advantage
Doha: The Islamic Republic of Iran's Persepolis will start the second leg of the AFC Champions League semi-final against Qatar's Al Sadd a goal to the good after securing a 1-0 away victory in the first leg on Tuesday, despite being on the back foot for most of the game.
Jesualdo Ferreira's high-flying Al Sadd came into the game at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium looking to exploit the absence of several key Persepolis players, but were instead left frustrated by a perfect defensive display from the visitors, before Ali Alipour struck an 86th-minute penalty to seal an unlikely win.
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Al Sadd domination pays no dividends
The hosts dominated the game in every regard, only to be denied a goal to show for it. Al Sadd ended with game with 67.5 percent of the possession, completing 527 passes with an accuracy rate of 81.4 percent.
The heatmap below shows how much of the game was played in the Persepolis half and, notably, that the ball was regularly in the visitors’ penalty area. Branko Ivankovic's side, meanwhile, seemed content to sit back, forcing little activity at the other end.
Defensive masterclass from Persepolis
Persepolis had been forced to make changes to their preferred defensive line-up after both first-choice full-backs were ruled out of the first leg. Winger Siamak Nemati dropped back to deputise for the injured Hossein Mahini at right-back while Mohammad Ansari, serving a one-match suspension, was replaced by Ali Mosleh on the other flank.
As the game progressed, there were little signs that this was a makeshift defence as they rose to the occasion to successfully thwart the Al Sadd attack.
The experienced centre-back duo of Seyed Jalal Hosseini (#4) and Shojae Khalilzadeh (#3) combined to make 24 clearances between them. Many of these interventions were crucial, coming in the heart of the Persepolis penalty box, as can be seen in the image above.
Nemati (#88) and Mosleh (#69) also stepped up and completed their roles to perfection, helping to cut off supply to the Al Sadd dangerman and the tournament’s 12-goal top scorer Baghdad Bounedjah, who was limited to a single shot on target.
Undone on the counter
Persepolis' defensive approach also laid the foundation for the late goal which put the icing on the cake for the Tehran giants. Growing in frustration, Al Sadd pushed forward in search of a goal in the final 10 minutes, leaving space behind, which was fully exploited by their opponents in a lethal counter-attacking move.
It was Khalilzadeh who did the trick, intercepting Xavi's through-ball before launching an inch-perfect pass forward for Alipour to run on to.
Al Sadd centre-back Khoukhi Boualem, playing a high defensive line, was caught unaware as Alipour raced past him before being brought down in the box for the decisive penalty. Al Sadd ended up paying the price for lapses in concentration.
Photo: Getty Images
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