Captain Sasan Ansari’s second-half goal was the difference as Foolad Khouzestan reached the AFC Champions League™ 2022 quarter-finals, beating Saudi Arabia’s Al Faisaly 1-0 in Monday’s Round-of-16 encounter at Al Thumama Stadium.
The victory, however, was followed by Javad Nekounam announcing at the post-match press conference that it was his last match in charge as head coach of Foolad.
Sasan Ansari's goal is enough to send the Khuzestan side to the quarter-finals for the first time in their history
The two teams observed a minute of silence in solidarity with Syria and Türkiye and to honour the victims of the devastating earthquakes that hit the two nations ahead of the kick-off.
A cagey start to the match saw little in way of chances at either end between two teams who had scored less goals than any other team in the group stage (West) apart from Al Jazira, yet advanced to the Round of 16 on the back of solid defensive displays.
Foolad’s first chance of the game arrived at the half-hour mark when Spanish midfielder Roberto Torres stepped up to take a free-kick from over 25 yards out, curling past the wall but his effort passed over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Ansari provided the closest thing to a threat towards Al Faisaly’s goal in the first period as he broke into the box and attempted to test goalkeeper Ahmed Al Kassar who was well positioned to make the save comfortably.
Al Faisaly started the second half on the attack, and within four minutes, they had their first attempt on the Iranian goal as the ball fell to Waleed Al Ahmed inside the box and the defender hit it on the half-volley but could not aim towards goal.
Torres tried his luck from distance again in the 58th minute, rifling a left-footed strike that was deflected and nearly left Al Kassar wrongfooted, but the Al Faisaly goalkeeper recovered in time and made the save.
The moment Foolad had been waiting for finally arrived in the 64th minute when a seemingly harmless cross from Mehdi Shiri was chested down by defender Saleh Al Qumaizi towards his teammate Al Ahmed who was nonchalant in his approach, allowing Ansari to snatch the ball and convert it into the back of the net from close range to give the Iranian side the lead.
Al Faisaly added more urgency to their game as they chased an equaliser for the remainder of the half and Al Ahmed nearly made amends for his mistake when he climbed highest to meet Abdullah Al Qahtani’s cross from the corner, but the defender’s header just missed the target in the last minute of the game.