By Michael Church
HONG KONG, April 26 (Reuters) – Persepolis’ perfect record in this year’s Asian Champions League was brought to an end on Monday as Tim Matavz’s early strike earned Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates a 1-0 win that kept alive their own hopes of a place in the knockout rounds.
Yahya Golmohammadi’s side had won their first four games in Group E to guarantee themselves a place in the last 16 of the competition, but slipped to their first loss as Slovenian striker Matavz netted five minutes into the game in Goa.
The win for Henk ten Cate’s side, who were reduced to 10 men for the final seven minutes when Abdulla Anwar was sent off, means the club from Abu Dhabi could also progress should they win their final group game against FC Goa on Thursday.
Only the winners of the 10 groups – five are being played in the west of the continent and five in the east – are guaranteed to advance to the Round of 16 alongside the six best runners-up.
Persepolis’ four straight wins mean they cannot finish any lower than second in the group and are certain to take one of the last 16 positions available to three teams that finish runners-up from the west.
Matavz earned Al Wahda all three points with his fifth minute strike that slammed into the roof of the net, beating goalkeeper Hamed Lak at his near post.
In Group B, Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan are on the brink of being eliminated with one round of matches remaining following their 0-0 draw with Iran’s Tractor in Sharjah.
Pieter Huistra’s side were held for a fourth time in five games and will need to win against Air Force Club from Iraq when they meet on Thursday to have any hope of progressing.
Tractor, meanwhile, are in second in the group, one point behind group hosts Sharjah, who face Air Force Club later on Monday.
Games in the western half of the group phase, which is being played on a centralised basis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will conclude on Friday while matches in the eastern side of the draw will not start until June.
The knockout rounds of the Asian Champions League are scheduled to kick off in September.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Pritha Sarkar)