Resan: We’re back in the qualification race

Persepolis midfielder Bashar Resan insists the Iranian side are now firmly back in contention for AFC Champions League knockout round qualification after Tuesday’s 2-0 Group D victory over Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli.

The Tehran team went into the match having picked up just one point from two games, but an acrobatic first-half effort from Shoja Khalilzadeh opened the scoring before Ali Alipour’s close-range finish shortly after the restart secured the 2-0 victory.

There are now just two points separating first-place Pakhtakor and bottom-of-the-table Al Ahli in a compact Group D, with both Persepolis and Al Sadd sandwiched in between the pair.

“These were three important points that returned us to the race for qualification,” said Resan.

“It is a very difficult group. Pakhtakor have five points, Al Sadd have four and Al Ahli have three. The group has become tougher, so these three points are very important for us.”

Since suffering a last-gasp defeat to Al Sadd on Matchday Two, Persepolis have been in fine form, winning three in a row to return to the Iranian Pro League summit, while they are also in the Hazfi Cup semi-finals.

But after a poor start on the continent, the first game of a double header against Al Ahli in Dubai marked a crucial point of their campaign, particularly as defeat would have left them well off the pace in Group D.

With a large Iranian expatriate population in the United Arab Emirates, much of the support inside Al Wasl Stadium was for Persepolis, and the team will hope for a repeat scenario in two weeks’ time.

“As you know there’s a lot of travel involved being an Iranian team; we are always under pressure but thankfully all our players, both the starting 11 and the substitutes, are of a high calibre,” added the Iraqi international.

“I want to congratulate the fans who came to support us here in Dubai; they were a source of strength for us.

“We are on top of the league and have also reached the cup semi-final. The pressure is huge but all our players are in good condition, thanks to our coaching staff.”

The win yet again showed Persepolis’s ability to bounce back after setbacks under their Croatian head coach Branko Ivankovic, who since taking over in 2015 has guided the club to back-to-back league titles, the AFC Champions League semi-finals in 2017 and last year’s final.

“We knew this would be a very difficult match and it was important for both teams, especially for us because after two games we had only one point,” said the 65-year-old.

“This win was very important and now we are close to Al Sadd, Al Ahli and Pakhtakor, so the next game will maybe be decisive.”