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Al Shorta's Shahd aiming to make AFC Champions League history for Iraq ahead of decisive Esteghlal clash


Doha: Head coach Abdulghani Shahd has his eyes set on writing history for Iraqi football as his Al Shorta side take on Esteghlal in a do-or-die Group A clash, with the winners earning a place in the 2020 AFC Champions League Round of 16.

A win for the Baghdad-based side will be enough to seal progress to the knock-out stage; a feat no Iraqi team in the history of the AFC Champions League has achieved.

Al Shorta beat Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli in their Matchday Four fixture to move up to second, but having drawn Esteghlal 1-1 at home in their opening match, losing to the Iranians on Sunday will leave them bottom of the group should Esteghlal manage to beat Al Ahli in the final match of the group.

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“This match is a crossroads for both teams. I had previously said this match is the decider and we simply have to win it to avoid waiting for the last game,” said a defiant Shahd.

“We can make history and become the first Iraqi team to reach the Round of 16 and this is the objective for all of us. The group permutations are a bit complicated; we know that if we draw, Al Ahli will have the top spot secured and might field a weakened team against Esteghlal on Matchday Six, so we want to stay away from these permutations and focus on winning the next game."

Al Shorta welcome back Iraqi international right-back Alaa Mhawi from suspension. The 24-year-old had been sent off in the Matchday Three fixture against Al Ahli, but coach Shahd will be without the services of talismanic midfielder Mohammad Qassim who suffered an injury in the previous match.

“Mhawi is one of the options available to us again, but we focus on playing as a team, rather on individual players. As for Qassim, he is a talented player who offers us a lot of individual solutions, missing him is a blow to our team, but I have faith in all players in my squad.”

Group A - MD4: Al Shorta 2-1 Al Ahli Saudi FC

Esteghlal return to action for their first game after the restart, and the two-time Asian Club Championship winners need four points from their next two games to reach the knock-out stages for the third time in four years.

“Al Shorta are a very good and powerful team; we played against them in Iraq and it was 1-1,” said head coach Majid Namjoo-Motlagh.

“The Al Shorta team we play against tomorrow are even better than in the first game; they are already more experienced in the competition now and have momentum on their side, but we prepared well and we are ready to take them on and move to the next stage."

Group A - MD1: Al Shorta 1-1 Esteghlal FC

“We will miss Siavash Yazdani who is injured, but all other players are in a good condition. We are going in with all our power because we want to make the millions of our fans in Iran and abroad happy. If we get a 0-0 draw, we can still qualify, but our objective is to win both games and qualify as top of the group.”

Al Wahda’s withdrawal from Group A after failing to travel to Qatar meant Al Ahli were able to seal qualification on Matchday Three, leaving Al Shorta and Esteghlal to battle for the remaining Round-of-16 ticket.

Esteghlal FC (IRN) v Al Shorta (IRQ)
Venue: Khalifa International Stadium
Kick-off: September 20, 21:00 UTC+3

*Poll ends at 01:00 (UTC +8) on September 21.

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