DOHA: Xavi Hernandez’s dazzling career came to an anti-climactic end when his side Al Sadd were beaten 2-0 by Iranian giants Persepolis in their last group match of the AFC Champions League on Monday.
The 39-year-old midfield genius, who helped Spain win the World Cup in 2010 besides helping Barcelona win two Uefa Champions League titles and eight La Liga titles, was cheered by poster-carrying fans at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran where already-eliminated Persepolis put on an improved display to register only their second win in six matches.
Xavi was also honoured by the Persepolis management, but Al Sadd’s second defeat in a row, following their 4-1 thrashing by domestic rivals Al Duhail in last week’s Amir Cup final in Doha, must have left him with mixed feelings.
Al Sadd had already qualified for the last 16 of the Asian tournament and they had hoped a victory on Monday would be an apt send-off for their captain who has been with them for four years.
But although the Spaniard produced some signature passes and watched a free-kick late in the game sail agonizingly over the goalpost, it was hosts Persepolis who made the most of the chances that came their way.
Before that though the Persepolis goal had survived a scare in the fifth minute when Xavi collected the ball near the centre and passed to Baghdad Bounedjah but the Algerian’s lob was deflected away by a leaping Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
Persepolis got their first chance in the 16th minute and made it count with Mehdi Torabi waltzing off on a 30-yard run following a pass from Ahmad Noorollahi and scoring with a thunderous drive past Al Sadd goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb.
They could have consolidated their lead in the 60th minute but Al Sadd midfielder Salem al-Hajri found himself perfectly positioned to clear the ball on the goal line after Mohsen Rabikhah had beaten goalkeeper al-Sheeb from the edge of the penalty box following a corner.
It seemed all the luck was with Persepolis as Al Sadd were denied by the woodwork in the 64th minute, 2018 AFC Player of the Year Abdelkarim Hassan’s powerful 35-yard shot ricocheting of the bottom of the post after goalkeeper Beiranvand was beaten.
Persepolis made it 2-0 in the 67th minute with Torabi racing down the left flank and passing perfectly for Ali Alipour, who evaded Tarek Salman’s attempted tackle before a powerful low shot saw the ball beat al-Sheeb all ends up.
Xavi, however had a great chance to go out in style but his 81st minute free-kick just skimmed the top of the net and went behind for a goalkick.
Also in Group D, goals from Omar al-Somah and Abdulrahman Ghareeb helped Saudi’s Al Ahli beat Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor 2-1 to finish second behind Al Sadd.
Al Ahli needed to beat Pakhtakor to finish second behind Al Sadd and they did exactly that to make the next phase with nine points, one behind the Qatari side.
Meanwhile in Group C, Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal and Qatar’s Al Duhail played out a 2-2 draw. Both teams had already qualified for the last 16, with the Saudis assured of the top spot even before kick-off.