AFC Champions League: Minerva outclassed by Saipa FC
by Shubham Sharma
Tehran: Iranian club Saipa FC thrashed Indian champions Minerva Punjab FC in an AFC Champions League 2019 Preliminary Round 2 clash on Tuesday at the Shahr-e Qods Stadium in Tehran, Iran. A brace from Arash Rezavand (8’ and 81’) and a goal each from Arman Ramezani (24’) and Samuel Sarfo (73’) sealed the match for the Iranian club.
Minerva Punjab handed the captain’s armband to veteran Syrian midfielder and former East Bengal Mahmoud Al Amna who recently joined the club. The Indian champions started on a defensive note right from the beginning of the match as they deployed seven players in their defensive third against the mighty Iranians.
But the ultra-defensive tactics did not work well for Minerva as Saipa scored the opening goal of the match in the eighth minute from the penalty spot. The hosts earned the spot-kick after Thoiba Singh brought down Mohammadreza Soleiman inside the box. Rezavand netted calmly from the spot.
The lead increased in the 24th minute as Ramezani found the back of the net from inside the box. Soleiman did well to dribble past three Minerva defenders but after his initial shot was blocked, forward Ramezani slotted the rebound into the net.
The reigning I-League champions got their best chance of the match to pull one back in the 71st minute. Moinuddin set up a brilliant ball for Juan Quero inside the box but the Spanish midfielder failed to score from close-range as his shot sailed over the crossbar.
Saipa punished Minerva's miss by scoring the third goal in the 73rd minute. Samuel Sarfo headed the ball into the net from Omid Khaledi’s cross from the left. The final nail on Minerva’s coffin was hammered in the 81st minute when Rezavand completed his brace by scoring from inside the box.
Minerva Punjab crashed out of the AFC Champions League 2019 and will now play the AFC Cup this year. They will accompany Dhaka Abahani, Manang Marshyangdi Club and the winner of South Asia play-offs in Group E.