Doha, Qatar: The last time Persepolis played in Doha, in the semifinal first-leg of the AFC Champions League, they put on a battling defensive display and snatched a last-gasp winner to break Al Sadd hearts.
It was a painful blow for the Qatar side, but Jesualdo Ferreira said last week this was not a revenge match. How much he meant by that is anybody’s guess, but this could definitely feel like revenge, at least for the players who were on the losing side that evening.
Sadd paid back in the same coin, breaking Persepolis hearts at the very end with a 1-0 victory that came with their last attack in their Group D match on Tuesday.
Baghdad Bounedjah headed in the winner in the fourth minute of added time to help Sadd open their account while Persepolis remain on one point and are at the bottom of the table after Pakhtakor defeated Al Ahli in the other match in the Group. Pakhtakor lead the group with four points while Ahli are on three.
The Iranians are still very much in the thick of the action in the group, but a defeat, or even a draw would have been extremely damaging for Sadd.
The Wolves knew they needed a victory and they were after it right from the start.
Qatar international Akram Afif was the first to aim at Persepolis goal, with a right-footed shot which however, did not have sufficient swerve to sneak inside the far post.
Sadd goal had a charmed life in the 15th minute as Ahmad Noorollahi failed to beat Saad Al Sheeb from point blank range, flicking straight at the Sadd goalkeeper from inside a crowded penalty area.
A free kick into the box again put Sadd defence, which looked disorganised, under pressure, but luckily for them, the Iranians failed to take advantage.
Sadd’s passing and movements upfront had a flowing rhythm to it despite the absence of their captain and playmaker Xavi Hernandez, but they were having a tough time in defence, with Ali Alipour’s left-footed shot from an acute angle beating Saad and rolling across the goal line before the half hour mark..
Soon a beautiful move saw Afif exchanging passes with Baghdad Bounedjah to tear open Persepolis defence with a fast break, but the Algerian striker, the top scorer at the last edition of Champions League, could not get enough power in his header, directing the Qatar winger’s cross straight into Ali Reza’s hands.
After the initial jitters at the back, Sadd slowly took control of the match and even had the ball in Persepolis net off a freekick just before half-time, but it was ruled out for off side.
They started the second half strongly and Hamad Ismael tested Reza with a powerful shot from distance in the 48th. Two minutes later Ismael pulled the ball back for Bounedjah, who managed to get a good connection but the shot was straight at Reza.
However, Sadd’s defensive frailties continued to resurface every now and then and Mario Budimir’s shot was only a few feet off the target.
Sadd coach replaced Ismael with Boualem Khoukhi midway through the second half, with Pedro moving into a right back role.
Bounedjah then came close to giving Sadd the lead when he cut in from the left and unleashed a rightfooter which Reza just managed to keep out with a fingertip save.
With Bounedjah and Afif linking up consistently, Sadd put Persepolis under constant pressure, but they failed to put away those chances.
Captain Hassan Al Haydous did not hit the target after a beautiful move, while Bounedjah’s effort was deflected out for a corner.
Sadd were going hammer and tongs in search of a goal, and Pedro’s left footer was deflected out for a corner. Amidst the waves of attack, they almost conceded a sucker punch when Alipour was left unmarked inside the area but Tarek Salman got back just in time to put pressure on the Iranian forward, allowing Saad to smother the ball.
Sadd had plenty of shouts for penalties turned down and time was running out, but they got their goal with their last attack.
Sadd got a freekick on the left for a foul on Bounedjah and captain Al Haydous opted to float it at the far post where Abdulkarim Hassan headed the ball across the goal.
Bounedjah, expecting the knock back, headed home with ease and tossed his shirt in the air in celebration before disappearing under a heap of exulting Sadd players.
Meanwhile in Riyadh, Al Duhail SC lost 1-3 to Al Hilal in a Group C match.