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Soccer: Iranians aim for historic Asian treble

April 28, REUTERS, Tehran - Iran champions Esteghlal, aiming to become the first side to win the Asian Club Championship for a third time, will be at full strength for their semi-final against China's Dalian Wanda today.

The home side, who won the championship in 1970 and 1990, have been boosted by the return of international striker Saeed Ali Mousavi. A knee injury kept him out of the quarter-final group stages in the United Arab Emirates in February.

The other semi-final will see 1997 Japanese champions Jubilo Iwata take on Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates. The final will be played in Teheran on Friday.

Mousavi, who will leave Iran to join Germany's Bayer Leverkusen after the competition ends, is likely to be joined in attack by fellow international Farhad Majidi.

Dalian reached last year's final, where they lost on penalties to South Korean side Pohang Steelers, but their hopes of going one step further this year have suffered a severe blow with the suspension of top striker Hao Haidong.

Hao was banned for one year by the Asian Football Confederation for spitting at a linesman during the Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand in December.

Since losing the 29-year-old, Dalian have struggled in front of goal, amassing just five points in their six domestic league games.

Dalian may also be unable to field their Iranian international midfielder Reza Shahroudi after it emerged the club had yet to pay the World Cup veteran's former club, Pirouzi, a US$200,000 transfer fee.

That issue should be resolved by today, when a crowd of 100,000 is expected to fill the Azadi Stadium, with Pirouzi giving Dalian a pay-to-play ultimatum over Shahroudi.


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