Iran's Persepolis FC will challenge for the AFC Champions League 2020 crown from West Asia after topping Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr FC via a penalty shootout at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Saturday.
Al Nassr dominated the 120 minutes of action, but Persepolis managed to hold on to a 1-1 draw, thanks to a first-half goal from Mehdi Abdi.
Goalkeeper Hamed Lak denied Al Nassr's Brazilian defender Maicon from the spot to hand a 5-3 victory in the shootout to Persepolis and send them through to their second AFC Champions League Final in three seasons.
Hours before the kick off, Persepolis were rocked by the Asian Football Confederation's decision to slap a six-month ban on their in-form striker Issa Alekasir for using a "discriminatory gesture" during the quarterfinal win over Uzbekistan's Pakhtakor Tashkent.
The 30-year-old forward had been pivotal for the Tehran-based outfit during in their Champions League run. Alekasir scored four times in the last three continental fixtures -- including the winning goals in Wednesday's quarterfinal as well as in the 1-0 win over Al Sadd SC in the Round of 16.
Persepolis head coach Yahya Golmohammadi chose Abdi, a 21-year-old Iran U-23 international, to take Alekasir's spot. The young striker dragged a shot wide from close range in one of Persepolis' earliest chances in the 26th minute before Abderrazak Hamdallah headed over at the other end a few minutes later.
But Hamdallah made no mistake from the penalty spot in the 36th minute to give Al Nassr the 1-0 lead after Khalid Al-Ghannam was clipped inside the box by Bashar Resan. Resan atoned for the giveaway six minutes later by hanging in a cross that was headed in by Abdi to restore parity.
Al Nassr boss Rui Vitoria replaced Al-Ghannam with the young Ayman Yahya at halftime and lost Sultan Al-Ghanam to an injury later on. But the Saudi outfit still created more chances in the second period. Hamdallah struck the crossbar with a free kick two minutes in before going close with a free header in the 76th minute.
But with no goals forthcoming at either end, the semifinal went into extra time. The Iran Pro League champions were under pressure in extra time and invited more trouble when they were reduced to 10 players after a second yellow card to Ehsan Pahlavan in the 104th minute but managed to hold the draw.
Hossein Kanaanizadegan, Siamak Nemati, Milad Sarlak and Shoja Khalilzadeh converted in the shootout for Persepolis before Maicon missed for the Saudis. Ali Shojaei hit the winning penalty that booked a second continental final for the Red Army.
Persepolis will face the winners of the East Zone. The matches in the East Zone are expected to resume in November with the AFC Champions League Final slated for December 19.