Shock, sadness in Iran over AFC Champions League ruling

Shock, sadness in Iran over AFC Champions League ruling
Iranian officials have expressed shock at the AFC's decision to exclude the country's two top football clubs from its Champions League.
2 min read
The "Reds" of Persepolis and the "Blues" of Esteghlal will both be excluded from the AFC Champions League [Getty]

Iranian sports officials expressed shock and sadness Saturday at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) decision to exclude three clubs from this year's Champions League.

On Friday, the AFC declared Iran's top two clubs, Persepolis and Esteghlal, as well as Gol Gohar, ineligible for the 2022 season of the continent's top club competition, as they did not meet the "mandatory criteria" for admission.

The "Blues" of Esteghlal and the "Reds" of Persepolis are the best known teams in Iran, and their long-time rivalry is illustrated during their emblematic derbies in the capital Tehran.

Kuala Lumpur-based AFC did not give further details about its decision, but the criteria are broad and range from ensuring safety standards to meeting financial and legal conditions.

The governing body did not respond to a request for more details.

"It's really shocking. It's very difficult for me to accept it," lamented Persepolis coach Yahya Golmohammadi, quoted by Iranian media.

"Those who caused this historic scandal with their decisions must be held responsible," he added.

Esteghlal club executive Hojjat Karimi, quoted by ISNA news agency, said "all the fans are saddened by this issue."

According to Iranian sports newspaper Khabar Varzeshi, the AFC had warned the Sports Ministry in October to give up its joint ownership of Esteghlal and Persepolis.

"The whole problem today is the presence of politics in football," Dariush Mostafavi, an Iranian football federation official, told state television.

The federation's president, Shahaboddin Azizi-Khadem, pledged on state television Friday night that "we will learn from the bitter experiences of the past, in order to take measures so that the football of the country meets the requirements of the Confederation".

Persepolis made it to the AFC Champions League final twice, in 2018 and 2020. Esteghlal was a double winner of the competition in its previous format, and participated in the tournament on several occasions since the new format began with the 2002-2003 season.