TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Head coach Abdulghani Shahd has his eyes set on writing history for Iraqi football as his Al-Shorta side takes on Esteghlal in a do-or-die Group A clash, with the winner earning a place in the 2020 AFC Champions League Round of 16.
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A win for the Baghdad-based side or a score draw with more than a goal will be enough to seal progress to the knock-out stage; a feat no Iraqi team in the history of the AFC Champions League has achieved.
Al Shorta beat Saudi Arabia's Al-Ahli in its Matchday Four fixture to move up to second, but having drawn Esteghlal 1-1 at home in its opening match, losing to the Iranian team on Sunday will leave them bottom of the group, as will a goalless draw should Esteghlal manage to beat Al-Ahli in the final match of the group.
"This match is a crossroads for both teams. I had previously said this match is the decider and we simply have to win it to avoid waiting for the last game," said a defiant Shahd.
"We can make history and become the first Iraqi team to reach the Round of 16 and this is the objective for all of us. The group permutations are a bit complicated; we know that if we draw, Al-Ahli will have the top spot secured and might field a weakened team against Esteghlal on Matchday Six, so we want to stay away from these permutations and focus on winning the next game."
Al-Shorta welcome back Iraqi international right-back Alaa Mhawi from suspension. The 24-year-old had been sent off in the Matchday Three fixture against Al-Ahli, but coach Shahd will be without the services of talismanic midfielder Mohammad Qassim who suffered an injury in the previous match.
"Mhawi is one of the options available to us again, but we focus on playing as a team, rather on individual players. As for Qassim, he is a talented player who offers us a lot of individual solutions, missing him is a blow to our team, but I have faith in all players in my squad," Shahd concluded.