Afshin Afshar, lastkick.com
A resilient Pegah of Gilan eliminated Sepahan of Isfahan in dramatic fashion to secure their place in the semi-finals of the Hazfi (Elimination) Cup.
Playing in front of 12,000 strong Pegah fans in Northern city of Rasht, Sepahan took the lead thanks to a second half goal by their promising young talent Ehsan Hajsafi. However, a short couple of minutes later Mehdi Noori leveled for Pegah.
A seemingly confident Sepahan took the lead once more through Ebrahim Lovinian, and looked certain to advance, but unfortunately for them, in manner not too dissimilar to their loss to Perspolis last week they surrendered the tying goal to Pegah marksman Seyyed Reza Chavoshi in the closing seconds.
In the extra-time Chavoshi scored his second goal to put Pegah ahead for good. Seeing the game slip away added to Sepahanâ€™s frustration and midfielders Saeid Bayat and Mohsen Bengar were both ejected from the game leaving the Isfahan side with only nine men on the field. Pegah took full advantage of the numerical superiority and scored an insurance goal that sent their fans into frenzy.
After the game a jubilant Pegah Head Coach, Nader Dastneshan, told reporters that having succeeded in avoiding relegation did wonders for his teamâ€™s spirit, and they showed it today against Sepahan.
â€œDefeating a strong side like Sepahan is no small task. My players played a brave game and were rewarded for itâ€, said Dastneshan. â€œWe have shown great resilience against the Leagueâ€™s top sides all season. Defeating top teams like Sepahan and Saba in the Cup competition is a testament to my playersâ€™ potential.â€
Sepahan President Mohammadreza Saaket tried to play down the significance of the loss. He spoke about the fact that they were competing on four fronts (i.e. the Iranian Professional League, AFC Champions League, World Club Cup, and the Hazfi Cup), and suggested that the fatigue resulted by playing 52 games in one season, an all time record high for any Iranian club, was a factor in Sepahanâ€™s performance today.
Besides all the international trips for the AFC Champions League and FIFA World Club Cup, Sepahan were forced to travel more than any other team in the league this season because of a home field ban imposed by the league as a result of fan trouble during a midseason match against Perspolis.
â€œDue to extreme fatigue, we were seriously considering pulling out of the Cup tournament and forfeiting this match, but out of respect for the fans we decided against itâ€, said Saaket. â€œOur players fought hard to the last minute. This loss does not take away anything from their accomplishments this season.â€
Pegah will meet Bargh of Shiraz in the semi-final match. Esteghlal of Tehran will face Foolad of Khuzestan in the other semi.