By Michael Church
(Reuters) - Xavi Hernandez’s hopes of leading Al Sadd to the Asian Champions League title came crashing down in Doha on Sunday as a late Issa Alekasir header earned Iran’s Persepolis a 1-0 win that eliminated the Qataris.
Persepolis, beaten finalists in the competition in 2018, advanced to the quarter-finals thanks to Alekasir’s glancing 88th-minute effort, with the 30-year-old forward finding the back of the net having earlier hit the woodwork twice.
The Tehran-based club will be joined in Monday’s draw for the quarter-finals by Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr following their 1-0 victory over compatriots Al Taawoun in Sunday’s late game.
“We made a lot of mistakes today and at this stage of the competition minor details count,” said Al Sadd’s Hassan Al Haydos.
“We would have won today had we followed the instructions of our coach, but we’re all responsible for this loss.”
Elimination means another year of disappointment in the Asian Champions League for Al Sadd, who were knocked out by eventual winners Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia in last year’s semi-finals and who have not won the title since 2011.
After a tense opening 45 minutes it was former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi’s side that looked the more likely to take the lead, with Abdelkareem Hassan, Akram Afif and Tarek Salman all going close before Alekasir clipped the crossbar at the other end two minutes after the hour mark.
The Persepolis man was narrowly off target again seven minutes later when, on another counter-attack, Bashar Rasan found his team mate eight metres from goal only for his first-time effort to thunder against the woodwork.
With two minutes remaining, however, Alekasir finally broke the deadlock as he steered Omid Alishah’s corner beyond Saad Al Sheeb, and Persepolis saw out the final minutes despite Siamak Nemati’s late red card for dangerous play.
In the final round-of-16 clash in the western half of the competition, Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah was on target 15 minutes from fulltime to earn Al Nassr their spot in the last eight against fellow Saudis Al Taawoun.
Al Nassr and Persepolis advance alongside Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor and Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia to the quarter-finals of the competition, which is being played in Doha in a centralised format due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Teams in the eastern half of the continent are scheduled to face off from mid-November with the final to be played on Dec. 19.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Toby Davis)