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Sepahan Advance to ACL Semi-Finals

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Posted on Thursday, September 27 2007

(AFC.COM - KAWASAKI) - Victorious Sepahan coach Luka Bonacic conceded his team were fortunate to progress to the last four of the AFC Champions League after their penalty shoot-out win over Kawasaki Frontale at Todoroki Stadium on Wednesday.

The J.League side dominated both at home and in last week's away leg but were unable to score in either tie and, as a result, they exited the tournament as Sepahan prevailed 5-4 on penalties to make it through to the semi-finals for the first time.

"We couldn't play beautiful football however we have got a spot in the semi-finals," said the Croatian. "I wasn't able to bring three of my attacking players because they were injured so it was a struggle to find out how to attack.

"But we were lucky as we won on penalties but this is part of football."

Bonacic was forced to play with only Iraqi international Emad Mohammed in attack after losing Mahmoud Karimi and Seyed Mohamed Salehi to injury in recent weeks and his side was under the cosh for most of the game.

Without an attacking outlet, Sepahan were put under constant pressure but, despite their dominance, Frontale were unable to make their superiority pay.

Sepahan goalkeeper Abbas Mohammadi, signed from Iran Pro League rivals Mes Kerman in the summer, was arguably his side's best player, making a string of saves from Brazilian striker Juninho while also twice denying Japan international Kengo Nakamura in the first half.

The Iranians managed to weather that initial storm, though, and they continued to frustrate last year's J.League runners-up before taking the game into extra-time and, ultimately, penalties.

"I had to make changes because Frontale were always attacking with four or five players and there were five or six players supporting them so I had to make changes," said Bonacic of his tactical reshuffle in the second half.

"We were playing for a draw and if we could draw then we knew we could go through on penalties. That's what I was thinking about."

Hiroyuki Taniguchi's miss in the fourth round of penalties after all six previous takers had been successful opened the door for Sepahan and Jalal Akbari slotted home the final kick to give his side victory.

Now the 2006 Hafzi Cup winners stand on the cusp of reaching the continental club championship final and will take on either Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal of Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates in the semi-finals.

But Bonacic is already satisfied with the achievements of his team so far.

"Reaching the semi-finals is a great success for us," he said. "For us, the semi-finals was the goal.

"I hope that we can improve and be much better than we were tonight but when we started in this competition we were thinking about reaching the semi-finals. So already this is a success for us.

"Now we have to see what we can do. In football, the ball is round and we shall see because anything can happen."

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