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Al Rayyan, Sailiya to battle Iranian clubs in ACL playoff

Al Rayyan, Sailiya to battle Iranian clubs in ACL playoff

Ayeni Olusegun
Doha
Back-to-back domestic defeats isn’t the best way to prepare for a continental challenge, but Al Rayyan will have to shore up their defensive frailty against Esteghlal in the AFC Champions League Playoff on Tuesday at the Al Sadd Stadium.
Qatar’s Al Sailiya will also make their Champions League debut when they host another Iranian side Shahr Khodro. The Peregrines are also on a poor run of form after two straight loses in the league.
For Al Rayyan though, a 10th ACL campaign is on the cards, however, The Lions will not just hope to qualify but to go beyond the group stage – which they have never managed to do in the last nine campaigns.
“This is a very important game for us and I trust my players enoguh to get a win. This is a new challenge for us this season and we want to win and will give our best,” Al Rayyan coach Diego Aguirre said ahead of the match.
The Lions, currently second in the QNB Stars League, last faced Esteghlal in the 2018 group stage – with the game in Doha ending 2-2 and the Iranians winning 2-0 in Tehran to advance at Al Rayyan’s expense.
Esteghlal’s attacking prowess led them to a comfortable 3-0 win over Kuwait SC in the Preliminary Round 2. With top man Cheick Diabate in fine form, Al Rayyan defenders will have their hands full especially having conceded eight goals in their last two matches.
“We prepare like any other match sometimes we lose and sometimes we win but for me, it is a game where we get to show our level. I’m sure we’ll be able to play our best football on both ends of the field. We are focused on the game because we know how important it is,” Aguirre added.
Esteghlal coach Farhad Majidi on the other hand, is worried about his player’s fitness due to the fixture congestion and travel difficulty.
“There is no direct flight from the UAE to Qatar and I am really surprised why the AFC doesn’t know this. Our players had two flights in less than 24 hours, however I believe that they can overcome the obstacles,” Majidi said.
“We know that Qatari clubs have progressed in the recent years. We’ve analyzed Al Rayyan SC well and I have to say they are an organized team but we also are Esteghlal, we have won the titles two times,” he added.
The winner will join Group A alongside Iraq’s Al Shorta, Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates and another qualifier.
Al Sailiya hope to make telling debut
A top three-finish last season ensured Al Sailiya will at least get a playoff match in the Champions League. The modest club, which has been under the tutelage of Tunisian Sami Trabelsi for almost seven years, have seen their reputation grow in Doha as one of the more stable clubs in the country.
However, playing a competition like the ACL, Trabelsi knows the challenge will be an eye-opener for his team.
“Al Sailiya is participating for the first time as everyone knows. The experience factor is required in such matches and if we qualify for the group stage, it is sure that the technical conditions will be different in the games,” Trabelsi said of the clash against Shahr Khodro at the Al Duhail Stadium on Tuesday.
“Al Sailiya may be the dark horse but we play as a group which is the well-known identity of the team.”
The winner will join reigning champions Al Hilal, United Arab Emirates’ Shabab Al Ahli and Pakhtakor FC of Uzbekistan in Group B.

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