Al Nassr, Persepolis advance to AFC Champions League semifinals

Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr FC will tee up against IR Iran's Persepolis FC in the West zone semifinals of the AFC Champions League on October 3. The two teams will play at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha, with the winners advancing to face the top team from the East in the league finals.

Saudi Professional League outfit Al Nassr breezed past local rivals Al Ahli Saudi Club 2-0 on Wednesday while Iran Pro League champions Persepolis overcame Pakhtakor Tashkent by the same score.

Pakhtakor controlled the ball against Persepolis at the start, but the dynamics changed when they were reduced to 10 players after just 15 minutes. VAR, which made its debut in Asia's premier club competition on Wednesday, proved decisive as Pakhtakor midfielder Jaloliddin Masharipov was sent after committing a dangerous foul on Kamal Kamyabinia.

The referee had not called the foul on Masharipov initially when the defender tried to stop a Persepolis break with a lunge. The red card and subsequent send off came after the play was reviewed on a pitch-side monitor.

Pakhtakor defended in numbers after going down and Persepolis found it difficult to breach their backline in the first half. But the decisive breakthrough came four minutes into the second half when Siamak Nemati -- who was sent off in the Red Army's win over Esteghlal FC in the previous round but had his suspension reversed -- ran down the right channel and delivered a low cross into the box.

Issa Alekasir, who had found Persepolis' winner against Al Sadd SC in the Round of 16, continued his purple patch for the Tehran club by arriving in the box to guide the cross home for his third goal in as many ACL matches. The 30-year-old played a key role in the second goal as well as he pressured Anzur Ismailov who turned a Saeid Aghaei cross into his own goal to send Persepolis to their third semifinal in four years.

Rui Vitoria's Al Nassr, meanwhile, will make their first-ever appearance in the semifinals of the continental competition after defeating Al Ahli in an all-Saudi quarterfinal in Doha. Al Nassr have finally made it to the last four of the continental tournament in their fifth season playing in the ACL.

All eyes were on Al Nassr's Moroccan hitman Abderrazak Hamdallah who had scored in nine consecutive AFC Champions League matches and was one strike away from breaking Shanghai SIPG star Hulk's scoring streak from the 2017 campaign. But it was another of Al Nassr's foreign players who got into the act on Wednesday.

Pity Martinez, acquired from MLS franchise Atlanta United FC in a reported $18 million move earlier in September, was the one who gave the Knights of Najd an early advantage in the quarterfinal. Khalid Al-Ghannam found the 27-year-old Martinez with some space at the edge of the box and the Argentine midfielder breezed past his marker and rolled the ball beyond Mohammed Al-Owais.

Al Ahli boasted attacking talents like Omar Al Soma, who had scored 10 goals in 10 starts against Al Nassr in the domestic league, and former Werder Bremen winger Marko Marin. Both were a shadow of themselves in the fixture, though, as they barely troubled the defenders while being exposed at the back. It was only a matter of time before their league rivals doubled their advantage.

That insurance goal came in the 55th minute when Abdulfattah Asiri fired in after gathering a cross from full-back Sultan Al-Ghanam. Chances did fall Hamdallah's way to score that record-breaking goal, but Al Ahli were lucky to have not conceded more as Al Nassr comfortably cruised into the Saturday's West Asia showdown.