Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
Jeddah: They may have flopped badly in their respective leagues this season but Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad and Iran’s Persepolis FC will have the opportunity to put their poor domestic campaigns behind them when they meet on Wednesday in the Round of 16 of the AFC Champions League.
Both teams have trophy cabinets laden with domestic and international honours - Al Ittihad have won eight Saudi League championships as well as back-to-back AFC Champions League titles in 2004 and 2005 while Persepolis are Iran’s most successful club with nine league titles and an Asian Cup Winners’ Cup victory in 1990.
But the two clubs will want to put the memories of their 2011-12 domestic campaigns behind them. Al Ittihad finished fifth, their lowest position in the Saudi League since 1998, and Persepolis suffered through their worst ever Iranian league campaign as they ended up in 12th place.
Hosts Al Ittihad will enter the match at Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium as the favourites, having appeared to turn around their fortunes since the appointment of Raul Caneda as their head coach in February. They were seventh in the table at the time of the Spaniard’s arrival after managing just one win in nine league games but they have since gone unbeaten in their last 14 games.
That run has included five wins and a draw in the AFC Champions League which put them five points clear of second-placed Baniyas in Group B.
Persepolis also started well in Group D and they seemed to be on course for top spot after holding Saudi giants Al Hilal to a 1-1 draw in Riyadh and thrashing Al Shabab Al Arabi 6-1 and Al Gharafa 3-0. But a 1-0 home loss to Al Hilal in their penultimate game saw them drop to second, which ultimately landed them a trip to Jeddah to face Al Ittihad in the last 16.
Given his side’s recent good form, Al Ittihad coach Caneda is confident that his players can get the job done and reach the quarter-finals for the third time in four seasons.
"We have studied Persepolis very well as we watched a lot of their matches,” said the Spaniard, who will welcome back striker Naif Hazazi after a one-match suspension.
“We will try to use the information that we gathered for the benefit of our team. We have prepared well and we look forward to continuing our great performances in the competition.
"We have a big match against Al Ittihad who have tried to put pressure on our side since our arrival in Jeddah. There have been a lot of logistical problems which have affected our players," the Turk complained.
"Despite those problems, we are determined to play well and win the match and continue on our way to the quarter-finals. I hope that our players will be focused and give their best tomorrow.”
The two teams met twice in the AFC Champions League group stage last year with Al Ittihad winning 3-1 in Jeddah and Persepolis winning 3-2 in Tehran.