Tehran Times - Senin Sebai’s 74th minute strike earned Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol a 1-1 draw with Persepolis in the AFC Champions League 2023/24 on Tuesday to leave the side from Iran in second place in Group E with two matches remaining.

The draw came after Mehdi Torabi had given the Iranians a first-half lead and sees Persepolis move onto seven points, still adrift of group leaders Al Nassr ahead of the Saudi Arabian side’s meeting with Al Duhail later.

Torabi’s expertly taken 29th minute free kick gave the two-time runners-up the advantage and brightened a tepid first half of few opportunities for either side, reported.

Istiklol’s Artur Kartashyan had struck the base of his own post in the early exchanges as Persepolis put the home defense under pressure but it took Torabi to step up to open the scoring.

The Iranian international steered his right foot effort over the Istiklol defensive wall and into the top left corner of Rustam Yatimov’s goal prompting scenes of jubilation on the Persepolis bench.

Alireza Beiranvand almost gifted the home side the equalizer 11 minutes before the break, the FIFA World Cup goalkeeper redeeming himself after an initial rush of blood left him well out of position in an unnecessary contest with Amadoni Kamolov.

The Istiklol attack rotated the ball around the penalty area to Sebai but, by the time the Ivorian struck his shot goalward, Beiranvand was back in position to tip the ball over the bar.

Beiranvand maintained his side’s lead again nine minutes after the restart when he kept out Tabrez Islomov’s header, steering the goal-bound effort away with his left hand after Kamolov’s cross from the right had found the full back free at the far post.

Kamolov snatched at his next sight of goal just after the hour mark, firing high of the goal when space opened up on the left side of the Persepolis defense but with 16 minutes remaining the 20-year-old unlocked the visitors’ backline.

A defense-splitting pass on the run found Sebai in space and he made no mistake with a clinical first-time finish.

Five minutes later Istiklol could have taken the lead when Kamolov played in Alisher Dzhalilov but this time Beiranvand was equal to the task and the Iranians held on to escape from Dushanbe with a point.