DJAMEL Belmadi’s men were going into their final game under the banner of Lekhwiya Sports Club, but it was not the climax they wanted. Spanish defender Chico Flores conceded an own goal midway through the first half, deflecting striker Mehdi Taremi’s pass into his own net, as the Cops lost to Persepolis 0-1 on aggregate in the pre-quarterfinal and crashed out of the AFC Champions League.
Qatar Stars League champions Lekhwiya, who will be merged with El Jaish and launched as Duhail Sports Club in time for the next season, started off impressively with their short-passing game. But Nam Tae-Hee, who was adjudged the season’s best player, and Co got little space to work with as the match wore on and found the rivals a bit too organised to penetrate.
Their confidence was severely dented when they conceded the goal, which assistant coach Bruno Oliveira described as “silly”. But Lekhwiya came back strongly when prolific scorer Youssef El Arabi was brought on close to the hour mark. They put the visitors under pressure, and El Arabi and Mohammed Mousa both hit the post, but failed to score.
Iranian league winners Persepolis, who had lost 1-3 to Al Rayyan in the group stage, were not to be denied this time as they played it safe once they took the lead and waited for their rivals to make mistakes to launch counter-attacks. They were the better team over both legs and became the only team from the country to reach the last eight of Asia’s premier club competition.
“We weren’t lucky last time, but this time we were keen to win,” said Persepolis’ Croatian coach Branko Ivankovic.
Man of the match Taremi said, “It was a tough game as Lekhwiya are one of the strongest teams in Asia. We’re satisfied with our job as we didn’t concede any goal in the two legs.” DSP