By Michael Church
HONG KONG, April 29 (Reuters) – Two-time finalists Persepolis of Iran secured top spot in Group E of the Asian Champions League in Goa as they claimed a 4-2 win over Qatar’s Al Rayyan on Thursday to confirm their place in the last 16.
First-half goals from Shahriyar Moghanloo and Ehsan Pahlavan gave the 2020 runners-up the perfect start, although Yohan Boli’s close-range strike early in the second half jangled the Iranians’ nerves.
Hossein Kanani restored his side’s two-goal cushion with a 68th-minute header before Boli’s second strike in the 72nd minute was cancelled out by Issa Alekasir inside 60 seconds.
Persepolis’ win ensured the Tehran club took Group E’s one guaranteed berth in the last 16, with only the 10 group winners across the newly expanded competition certain to advance alongside the six best-placed runners-up.
Al Wahda guaranteed themselves one of those runners-up slots when goals from Omar Khribin and Mohammed Al Menhali earned a 2-0 win over FC Goa that took Henk ten Cate’s side on to 13 points and second place behind Persepolis in Group E.
The club from Abu Dhabi have secured one of the three places reserved for the second-placed sides from the west of the continent in September’s knockout rounds.
In Group B in Sharjah, Iranian side Tractor will have to see if they have amassed enough points to progress as one of the best runners-up after they handed already-qualified Sharjah a 2-0 defeat.
Mohammad Abbaszadeh scored a goal in each half for Tractor as they moved on to 10 points from their six games and they will now wait until Friday’s matches in Groups A and C have been completed.
Santi Cazorla scored from the penalty spot for Xavi Hernandez’s Al Sadd in Riyadh against Al Nassr in Group D but it was not enough to stop the Saudi Arabian club notching up a crucial 2-1 win.
Victory saw Al Nassr leapfrog the Qatari club to win the group and advance to the next round while Al Sadd – semi-finalists in 2019 – will have to hope results in other groups go their way.
Games in the group phase of the competition in the west of the continent have been played in a series of centralised hubs throughout April, with teams in the eastern half of Asia due to feature in a similar set-up in June and July.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Ed Osmond)