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Persepolis’ Golmohammadi delighted to pass AFC Champions League test against Istiklol

Dushanbe: Persepolis FC head coach Yahya Golmohammadi praised his players after they defied a near-full Central Republican Stadium to defeat Tajik champions Istiklol in the 2021 AFC Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

With more than 17,000 fans desperate to see the hosts continue their fairy tale run in their debut campaign, Persepolis held their nerve to navigate a tricky period before half-time, before Mahdi Torabi’s last-minute winner sent them to the last eight.

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Torabi’s decisive strike was just reward for an excellent second half display from the 2018 and 2020 runners-up, and Golmohammadi revealed his joy at having passed a unique test on the road to the latter stages of the tournament.

“This is a happy victory for all our fans, but we won the game thanks to the presence of our fans and the efforts of our players. Without them we would have been in trouble” the head coach said, referring to a small knot of Tajikistan-based Persepolis fans who cheered his side on.

“Overall, I think it was a good game for us. We controlled the game and the movement of the ball, with the exception of free-kicks, we did not give many opportunities to our opponents and we defended well.”

2021 AFC Champions League - Round of 16: FC Istiklol 0-1 Persepolis FC

In an atmosphere worthy of the stage of the competition, Persepolis – who hadn’t played in front of fans in 2021 - failed to test Istiklol’s 18-year-old goalkeeper Mukhriddin Khasanov until more than an hour had been played, while their own custodian Hamed Lak was forced to make key first-half saves, including a fine reflex effort to deny Vahdat Hanonov.

But Persepolis’ greater experience and fitness eventually told, with Mehdi Abdi and Vahid Amiri giving the hosts headaches throughout the second half before left-winger Torabi’s curled effort finally broke the deadlock in the last minute of regulation time.

Torabi said the match had been every bit as difficult as expected.

“We went out and won a very good game,” he said. “It was very difficult. We analysed Istiklol and we knew they were dangerous from counter attacks. Thank God, we focused, and we were able to do what was necessary.

“Thanks to our fans and those who were here to encourage us. I hope we will see our fans again in our league games very soon.”

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