Soccer-Nemati Seals Persepolis’ Passage to ACL Final

By Michael Church

HONG KONG, Oct 24 (Reuters) – Iran’s Persepolis reached the final of the Asian Champions League for the first time after drawing 1-1 with Qatar’s Al Sadd on Tuesday to seal a 2-1 aggregate semi-final win.

At a packed out Azadi Stadium, Siamak Nemati’s bouncing volley four minutes into the second half cancelled out Baghdad Bounedjah’s earlier strike for Al Sadd to secure Persepolis’ passage to the final.

They will meet either Japan’s Kashima Antlers or Suwon Bluewings from South Korea in the final, with the east Asian pair due to meet in the second leg of their semi on Wednesday. Kashima hold a 3-2 advantage.

Persepolis claimed a 1-0 lead in the first leg in Doha three weeks ago thanks to Ali Alipour’s penalty, but that was cancelled out when Bounedjah claimed his 13th goal of campaign as he capitalised on a mistake by the Iranian defence in the 17th minute to slot home.

But Nemati’s left-foot volley in the opening minutes of the second half following Godwin Mensha’s cross put Branko Ivankovic’s team back on top.

Alipour was denied the opportunity to put Persepolis ahead on the night when Al Sadd goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham saved with his legs.

Al Sadd remained in contention throughout what remained of the game and Alireza Beiranvand pulled off a late finger-tip save to keep out a glancing close-range header from World Cup-winning Spaniard Xavi.

Persepolis will travel to the east of the continent to play in the first leg of the final on Nov. 3 with the second leg to be held in Tehran on Nov. 10.

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)