Dubai: Players from Persepolis have joined their coach in going that extra mile in search of glory while hailing their entry into the final of the 2020 AFC Champions League.
The Iranian club will now have to endure a long wait until mid-December to know their opponent in the final after clinching a penalty shoot-out win against Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia in their semi-finals held in Doha, over the weekend.
Runners-up in 2018, 10-man Persepolis advanced to the final for the second time in three years after overcoming Al Nassr on penalties following a hard-fought 1-1 draw at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.
As so often since 2017, when Persepolis reestablished themselves as a force to be reckoned with in Asia, they delivered when the odds looked stacked against them, even after the late dismissal of Ehsan Pahlavan.
Persepolis went into the tie on the back of a string of resolute performances, while Al Nassr, competing in the semi-finals for the first time, were looking to become the second successive Riyadh side to reach the final.
But that was not to be as the Iranian club took the lead from a first-half penalty conversion from Abderrazak Hamdallah. And after the equaliser and after being a man down, the Iranians fought well to win on penalties, where they will now await the winners of the East Asia zone that has been rescheduled to be held from November 18.
“It is a matter of believing in ourselves and believing we could qualify for the final,” Persepolis head coach Yahya Golmohammadi told the official AFC website.
“We were playing against a team that played very good football, but we had overcome a lot of problems since before our arrival [in Doha], and that gave us added motivation to win and be able to bring joy to our fans and the Iranian people.”
Persepolis captain Seyed Jalal Hosseini, who was a member of the squad when they lost in the final to Japan’s Kashima Antlers in 2018, dedicated their second final in three years to the fans of the club. “Congratulations to the fans. This success is dedicated to them. I want to thank them for always being supportive. Our players really fought in hard conditions. I hope we can continue like this in the final as well,” he said.
Persepolis midfielder Bashar Resan offered that his team showed tremendous fighting spirit against all odds for their win against a superior team from Saudi Arabia. “The coach told us at half-time that we would be able to win the match. We had great fighting spirit as we were not only representing Persepolis fans, but all of Iran,” Resan said.
“The fighting spirit of the players helped us fight for more than 120 minutes. We showed great effort and the solidarity of the players helped us achieve our first target,” he added.
Despite the loss, Al Nassr’s Portuguese coach Rui Vitoria found a lot of positives for the team from Saudi Arabia. “This team has potential, quality and young players who have the quality. But, we need more time to work together,” the former Benfica team manager said.
“We need to think about certain areas that we can continue to improve upon. We are ready for the future. This was an important step for us. We played very well in the seven games in such a short period of time,” he added.
Defending champions Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia were disqualified after they failed to name the required 13 players to play their group stage match due to many team members testing positive for COVID-19.
Persepolis will now await the winner of the competition arising after the four groups play in East Asia starting from November 18. The final of the 2020 AFC Champions League will be held, in Doha, on December 19.