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Analysis: Duhail edge Persepolis in close-fought AFC Champions League encounter

Doha: A narrow 1-0 win for Al Duhail over Persepolis on Monday sees Group C go down to the wire with all four sides still in contention after an intriguing contest at Education City Stadium.

It was a clash of champions as the league winners of Qatar and IR Iran met in Doha on Matchday Five with the exciting attack of Duhail, led by 2019 AFC Asian Cup Top Scorer Almoez Ali, trying to break through against the sturdy defence of Persepolis led by Iranian icon Jalal Hosseini.

As it turned out, a single goal proved to be enough to swing the tie but there were various subplots of interest that played out in the tie.

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Duhail's Benatia boost

The overturning of Medhi Benatia's two-match suspension ahead of the game was an important filip to a side that conceded three times after his original sending off in the 4-2 defeat to Sharjah on Matchday Four.

With the former Bayern Munich and Juventus centre-back restored to the heart of the defence, it was no coincidence that Duhail recorded their second clean sheet of the campaign and first since their competition opener which also came against Monday's opponents Persepolis.

The Moroccan was, as usual, heavily involved in the action with the third highest number of duels won (8), joint highest in clearances (4) and joint second highest in tackles (3).

As well as his defensive work, Benatia's role as the base from which Duhail's attacks first build is an important asset to the team.

Of the Qataris' top five passing combinations three involved the 33-year-old as he looked to get his side moving, with his precision passing reflected in the team's third highest passing accuracy (82.6%) and second highest number of passes (46).

Attacking woes cost Persepolis

Persepolis' defence has been rightly lauded since the resumption of the 2020 AFC Champions League and the penalty scored by Almoez Ali on Monday was the only goal the Tehran giants have conceded so far in the last three matches.

However, defence alone will not win matches, and the Iranians' struggles at the other end of the pitch proved their downfall against Duhail. In the double-header with Al Taawoun, Persepolis secured two 1-0 wins via goals from set-pieces (a corner and penalty respectively) and they are yet to score from open play in September.

The prolificacy up front was particularly encapsulated by striker Issa Alekasir who missed a golden opportunity on 64 minutes, sending his shot wide with the goal at his mercy from six yards out. Indeed the 30-year-old forward's stats bear uncomfortable reading: four shots inside the box, none on target.

Alekasir wasn't the only culprit, though, midfielders Ehsan Pahlevan, Bashar Resan and Ahmad Noorollahi all proved wayward with their finishing as Duhail's slender lead proved enough to secure victory. The departure of former target man Ali Alipour is undoubtedly a costly loss for Persepolis.

Edmilson Junior's winning return

After missing Duhail's opening two ties since the AFC Champions League resumed, Belgian-Brazilian winger Edmilson Junior was a welcome addition to Walid Regragui's line-up and the 26-year-old showed just what the Qatari champions had been missing with an impressive display.

The technically gifted attacker was the most creative player on the pitch with double the number of chances created than any other (4) despite being only on the field for 75 minutes. He also boasted the highest passing accuracy of any of those in the starting line-up with an eye-catching 95.5% finding a teammate.

Indeed, Persepolis often struggled to contain the Duhail number 10 with Edmilson being among the most fouled players (3) on the field. Although he started on the left of a three behind striker Almoez Ali, the second generation footballer was given license to roam and was often popping up in central areas or on the right wing.

Along with Ali, Dudu and Abdullah Al Ahrak, Duhail's mobile attacking quartet were often interchanging positions in what could prove to be an forward foursome line to take the Qataris into the knockout stage and beyond.

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