KARAJ – Iranian champions Saipa secured top spot in Group B to book their place in the knockout phase of the AFC Champions League with a 1-0 win over Kuwait Sports Club (KSC) on Wednesday evening.
Victory over the Kuwaitis means Ali Daei’s team cannot be surpassed at the summit, with second-placed Al Quwa Al Jawiya holding an inferior head-to-head record against the Karaj-based club.
Kianoush Rahmati’s unstoppable long-range effort in the 24th minute proved the only goal of the game at the Enghelab Stadium, although Mohammad Javad Araghi did hit the woodwork late on, to progress to the last eight for the first time.
Saipa, who were missing midfielder Omid Sharifi through suspension, nearly went in front in the opening exchanges when Rahmati’s cross from the left was headed goalwards by Roozbeh Shahalidoust only to be cleared off the line KSC defender Yaqoub Al Taher.
Saipa continued to press and they went close again after 19 minutes when Malian midfielder Issa Traore headed Milad Zanidpour’s cross over the bar before Rahmati shot straight at KSC goalkeeper Khalid Al Fadhli four minutes later.
But he made amends one minute later when he unleashed a first-time thunderbolt from distance which rocketed into the top right corner of Al Fadhi’s net to give the home side the lead they craved.
KSC tried to hit back and had a chance after 32 minutes but Husain Al Shammari’s free-kick was saved by Saipa goalkeeper Rahman Ahmadi.
Saipa then threatened to extend their advantage five minutes later but Zanidpour saw a left-foot shot inside the area punched away by Al Fadhli as the home side went in ahead at the break.
Saipa continued to hold the upper-hand in the second half and spurned another chance approaching the hour mark when Traore found himself with only the goalkeeper to beat but could not retain his composure and fired wide.
Kazem Bozcheloo went closer shortly afterwards off when he got on the end of Rahmati’s corner but his effort was cleared off the line by Fahad Shaheen.
Saipa then had a great chance to put the result beyond doubt after 81 minutes when substitute Mohammad Javad Araghi cut into the area from the right flank but his shot was cleared by KSC defenders.
The midfielder picked up the loose ball but his shot struck the right-hand post but it proved academic as Saipa held on to claim the win they needed to progress to the last eight.
Daei delight at silencing skeptics
KARAJ – Saipa boss Ali Daei was delighted to see his side clinch a place in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League with a game to spare after the Iranian champions edged out Kuwait Sports Club 1-0 at Enghelab Stadium.
Midfielder Kianoush Rahmati’s superb 24th-minute strike settled the contest in the hosts’ favour as they sealed top spot in Group B due to a better head-to-head record against Al Quwa Al Jawiya.
Mohammad Javad Araghi could have settled the home fans’ nerves nine minutes from time, particularly after throwing away a one-goal lead two weeks ago against Al Quwa Al Jawiya, but the midfielder hit the woodwork.
But Daei was delighted to prove the doubters wrong and make it through to the knockout stages.
“When the Asian Champions League started people didn’t even give us a five percent chance of winning the group,” he said.
“I want to thank God, the players and our excellent supporters without whom we wouldn’t have got this victory.
“We played with great pride and we beat one of the best teams in West Asia, although we should have won by more because we had a lot of good chances and were the better team.
“We’re a good team and we’re going to get even better.”
“I promised to be with Saipa until we finish in the Champions League and it hasn’t finished yet,” he added.
“We must now think of the next round and improve our weaknesses so that we can go even further.”
Opposite number Mohammad Abdullah was disappointed to be leaving Iran empty-handed as he saw his side’s Champions League dream come to an end.
Nevertheless, he was proud of KSC’s fighting display and believed the margin between victory and defeat was a fine one.
“We came here to win and we’re unhappy that we didn’t,” he said.
“But we leave with our heads held high because we’ve shown that no-one can take us lightly.
“They (Saipa) are physically and technically very strong but I think it was an even match. The only difference is that they took their chance.”