(Persia Digest) – On Sunday 25 February 2018, the-afc.com writes that Persepolis’ run to the 2017 AFC Champions League semi-finals introduced Asian football fans to striker Mehdi Taremi who finished the campaign with seven goals, a tally bettered only by Al-Hilal’s Omar Khrbin and Brazilian duo Rafael Silva and Hulk.
But by January 2018, Taremi had departed for Qatar, joining Al Gharafa on an 18-month deal. With a transfer ban in place on Persepolis, the Tehran-based side had to find a replacement from within as they looked to mount a title defence on the domestic front, as well as a second consecutive continental challenge.
Ali Alipour had started six games in last season’s AFC Champions League, scoring once in the second leg of the quarter-finals against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli, but coach Branko Ivankovic saw in the 23-year-old the man to replace Taremi in his attack.
Two years Taremi’s junior and six centimetres shorter, Alipour is a different type of player. He relies more on pace and intelligent movement to create space, as opposed to Taremi’s more traditional centre-forward style which favours physicality and aerial challenges.
The Croatian’s faith in his number 70 paid huge dividends as Alipour has blossomed this season to score 17 league goals, more than his entire career’s combined tally since making his Iran Pro League debut with Rah Ahan in 2013.
Alipour’s goals have fired Persepolis to a comfortable 16-point gap at the top of the league, needing just one victory from their remaining six matches to be crowned champions for the 11th time in their history.
With the league title virtually wrapped up, the Red Army turned their attention to the AFC Champions League, where Ivankovic had vowed to better last year’s final-four finish. Their task is not easy, having been drawn against Qatar’s Al Sadd, UAE’s Al Wasl and Uzbekistan’s Nasaf in Group C.
The Iranian champions started their campaign emphatically with a 3-0 win over Nasaf at Azadi Stadium, and Alipour made his intentions clear with a second-half brace that demonstrated his versatility; the first a cute finish from inside the six-yard box after finding space behind the Uzbek defence to meet a cross from the right, and the second a well-struck effort with his weaker left foot after arriving late into the box.
On Matchday Two, Persepolis suffered a reversal in Doha after they were consigned to a 3-1 defeat by Al Sadd in a game where Alipour failed to add to his tally. Despite the defeat, Brankovic’s men remain second in the group, and a home win in their next fixture against Al Wasl can put them firmly on track to secure one of the two qualification spots to the round of 16.
Alipour will be looking to emulate Taremi’s seven-goal exploits in 2017, and he may at some point find himself head-to-head with the man he replaced as the side’s primary goal getter.