By Sports Reporter/Doha
Qatar would have four teams in the AFC Champions League this year provided Al Rayyan and Al Sailiya win their respective playoff matches against Iranian opposition in Doha today.
Al Rayyan will be facing Estheglal, while Al Sailiya take on Shahr Khodro hoping to join domestic rivals Al Sadd and Al Duhail in the group stage of Asia’s premier club tournament.
Al Sadd and Al Duhail booked their automatic spots after finishing first and second respectively in the 2018-2019 QNB Stars League, but Al Sailiya, who finished third, and fourth-placed Al Rayyan, take the playoff route.
For Al Sailiya, this will be their first taste of the Champions League if they are able to put it past Shahr Khodro who defeated Bahrain’s Riffa 2-1 in the preliminary round on Saturday to qualify for the playoffs.
“I’ve waited a long time for this, obviously I am excited at the prospect of Al Sailiya qualifying for the AFC Champions League,” their Tunisian coach Sami Trablesi said at a press conference yesterday.
“I am very confident even though I am aware the task won’t be easy task to beat Shahr Khodr. A new start beckons for Al Sailiya,” added Trablesi.
Al Sailiya lost 0-1 to Al Ahli in Week 13 of the QNB Stars League in the weekend, following their 0-2 loss to Al Duhail in the 2020 Qatar Cup semifinal, but Trablesi said there was no point in looking back.
“The Champions League is a new tournament and we are on the verge of history. We are not thinking about our past defeats but looking at the future,” said Tunisian Trablesi, whose side includes players such as Algerian Nadir Belhadj, Iranian Karim Ansari and captain Majdi Siddiq.
The winners of the Al Sailiya vs Shahr Khodro game will join Group B, which includes Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai and Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor.
Meanwhile, Al Rayyan coach Diego Aguirre admitted that facing Estheglal will be a difficult task.
“The match won’t be easy at all, but I’ve been personally talking to the players to try and motivate them,” said Aguirre, whose team conceded eight goals in their last two QNB Stars League matches – against Al Sadd and Al Gharafa.
The Uruguayan added that he preferred to concentrate on the present. “Our immediate goal is to beat Estheglal and qualify for the group stage. We will take it from there afterwards.”
Al Rayyan, meanwhile, are aiming to qualify for the 10th time although they have never been able to make it beyond the group stage.
The pair last faced off in the 2018 group stage, with the game in Doha ending 2-2 and Esteghlal winning 2-0 in Tehran as the Iranian side advanced and Al Rayyan exited.
Playoffs will be played across the Asian continent today to fill in the eight vacant spots spots remaining in the AFC Champions League.
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