A decade and a half on, the most decorated teams in the Pro League era are again involved in the two-horse race to take home the coveted trophy when the final round of league fixtures is played across eight stadiums today.
Persepolis heads into the away game in Qaemshahr’s Shahid Vatani Stadium, looking to seal a sixth title in seven years with maximum points against Nassaji Mazandaran.
Sepahan, meanwhile, trailing the top by a single point, knows a win against struggling host Mes Kerman needs to be coupled with the Reds’ slip if the Isfahan-based club is to lift the trophy for the first time since 2015.
When a Mohammad Karimi’s last-gasp strike saw Sepahan walk away with a 1-0 win against Persepolis in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium back in March, the Reds’ title quest looked in tatters, as they fell to third in the table – four points behind then leader Sepahan.
However, a remarkable run of six successive wins after the Persian New Year’s vacations – including a massive one-goal triumph over archrival Esteghlal in the Tehran derby – has put Yahya Golmohammadi’s men on the cusp of glory.
Mehdi Torabi’s dazzling form of late has played an integral part in the Reds’ title run-in as he has bagged five goals in as many recent games – including a hat-trick in the 4-0 hammering of Golgohar Sirjan last time out – while providing his teammates with a couple of assists.
Golmohammadi will hope to have his Iranian international winger and Vahid Amiri as well as resurgent trio of Soroush Rafiei, Saeed Sadeqi, and Issa Alekassir on their best day as a win in Vatani Stadium will leave Persepolis two games away from a second domestic league and cup double in four years.
Should Sepahan, who many believe has played the best football in the 16-team league this season, finish its campaign empty-handed, the club supporters will rue the controversial 1-0 defeat at Tractor and, perhaps most significantly, the 1-1 home draw against Malavan in April.
A day after the derby victory for Persepolis, Sepahan had to beat Malavan to regain the top spot and Jose Morais’s men looked in control for the best part of the contest, before a Soheil Fadakar’s equalizer with four minutes from normal time silenced the jam-packed Naqsh-e Jahan Stadium.
Tensions will be equally high at the other end of the table as Mes Kerman and San’at Naft Abadan will be craving to avoid joining Naft Masjed Soleyman in relegation.
Mes and San’at Naft are level on points, but the former sits just outside the bottom two thanks to a head-to-head advantage over San’at.
Mes was eight points clear of the relegation zone in late March before a 2-1 loss at San’at was followed by three successive defeats and a goalless stalemate at Malavan last Friday and a defeat against Sepahan today could well see Farzad Hosseinkhani’s side return to the second-tier league after a year.
San’at Naft, meanwhile, plays away to Golgohar Sirjan, hoping to better Mes Kerman’s result.
The southern Iranian club, which appointed Abdollah Veisi as the manager in March, made the most of Mes Kerman’s wobble by collecting nine points in a five-game unbeaten run – including a 1-1 draw against Esteghlal in Tehran.
The bad news for Veisi is that his team will have to do without its talisman Taleb Rikani for today’s game after San’at skipper was shown a straight red in the 1-1 draw against Zob Ahan.
Elsewhere in the league, Esteghlal and Tractor – third and fourth in the table respectively – will square off at the Azadi Stadium, with both sides looking to round off their impressive runs in the second half of the season in style.
Foolad Khuzestan will host Aluminium Arak in Ahvaz’s Foolad Arena, while in Isfahan, Zob Ahan welcomes Havadar.
Bottom club Naft Masjed Soleyman will play its last game in the Iranian top-flight for a while when hosting Malavan, and Mes Rafsanjan will visit Paykan in what could be head coach Mohammad Rabiei’s final game on Mes bench.