By Michael Church
Feb 22 (Reuters) – Asian Champions League quarterfinalists Foolad confirmed on Wednesday that Javad Nekounam has quit as the Iranian side’s head coach, less than two days before the team is due to face defending champions Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia.
A statement by the club said they had accepted the resignation of the former Iran midfielder, who represented his country at the World Cup in 2006 and 2014, in the aftermath of his team’s 1-0 win over Al Faisaly on Sunday.
Nekounam will be replaced on an interim basis by Hamid Reza Rabaji when Foolad meet the Saudis at Al Janoub Stadium in Doha on Thursday.
While Nekounam steered the club to the quarterfinals of the continental championship for the first time, Foolad have struggled in the domestic league and are currently 18 points adrift of leaders Sepahan.
Foolad are looking to claim a place in the semifinals of the Asian Champions League, where they would meet the winners of the clash between Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab and Al Duhail from Qatar.
The winner of the semifinal will take on Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in the two-leg final on April 29 and May 6.
(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Kim Coghill)