(IranSportsPress.com-AFC)- Arguably the toughest to call of the AFC Champions League quarter-finals is the clash between Persepolis and Al Ahli, who will both be hoping their inspirational strikers can prove the difference.
Ten goals between them on the continent means Mehdi Taremi and Omar Al Soma go into the tie with the weight of expectation firmly on their shoulders.
After signing for Persepolis in 2014, Taremi made his AFC Champions League debut the following year, scoring once as his side exited in the last 16.
Two years later and it’s a completely different story as the forward has scored more than half of Persepolis’ goals in their march to a first-ever quarter-final appearance.
The Saudi Pro League’s top goalscorer for three seasons in a row boasts an incredible tally of 73 league goals in 71 matches and last year the forward helped the Jeddah club win their first league title in 32 years.
Injuries kept Al Soma out of the majority of Al Ahli’s 2016 AFC Champions League campaign, but he has returned this time with four goals in five games.
The current campaign
Taremi’s predatory instincts were at their superb best at Al Wahda on Matchday Two when the marksman bagged a brace in the final 10 minutes – a header and a volley, both from six yards out – to turn defeat into a 3-2 victory.
A return to the Gulf two weeks later saw Taremi open the scoring against Qatar’s Al Rayyan before Persepolis eventually lost 3-1
Having failed to register a win since beating Al Wahda, it was do or die when the Tehran club hosted the Emiratis on Matchday Six.
Taremi made it 2-0 after 20 minutes but the visitors fought back to 2-2, only for the Iranian international to add two more to complete his hat-trick as Persepolis won 4-2 to progress to the knockout rounds.
It took just 13 minutes into Al Ahli’s 2017 AFC Champions League campaign for Al Soma to find the back of the net in a 2-0 home win over Bunyodkor.
Al Soma played the saviour in Muscat a week later as his trademark free-kick five minutes from time handed the Saudi side an important 2-1 victory against Zob Ahan.
After drawing a blank at home against Al Ain, Al Soma bounced back with a brace in the reverse fixture. His 89th-minute volley from outside the box was the pick of the goals as Al Ahli continued their undefeated run.
Al Soma, though, has missed the last three games on the continent through injury but returns for the quarter-final clash with Persepolis.
Importance to the team
Six of Persepolis’ 10 group stage goals came from Taremi, while only Chico Flores’ own-goal saw the Tehran giants past Lekhwiya in the Round of 16.
Not since Matchday One’s 1-1 draw with Al Hilal has another Persepolis player scored when Taremi has not been on target, making Taremi undoubtedly the key man.
While they did manage to navigate the two Round of 16 fixtures without Al Soma, beating namesakes Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates 4-2 on aggregate, the striker’s powerful presence in the penalty box and his consistent threat from set-pieces mean he is an essential cog in Al Ahli’s wheel.
What to expect
Six goals puts Taremi joint second in the scoring charts, but the striker does not guarantee goals and he will want to improve a ratio of having scored in less than half of his side’s games.
And, with all of his strikes coming from well inside the penalty area, there’s firm evidence that if Taremi’s supporting cast are not on their game, Persepolis will struggle to find the back of the net.
In what could be a cagey affair over the two legs, chances inside the penalty box may be few and far between as Persepolis will know better than to leave Al Soma unmarked.
The striker scored in his only previous game against Iranian opposition in the current campaign, though, and with a goals per minutes ratio of one every 112, Al Soma will be confident he can do likewise at least once over the two legs.