Iranian, Saudi clubs to may play in neutral venues

Iranian clubs might be forced to play their Saudi opponents in neutral venues when the group stage of the AFC Champions League gets underway in September.
A political standoff has seen the teams from the two countries square off on neutral grounds since 2016 and, despite the thaw in the Tehran-Riyadh relations in recent months, the situation will apparently remain unchanged for the upcoming competition after the Saudi newspaper Arriyadiyah reported on Saturday that Al Nassr has wrote to the Asian football governing body to name Dubai’s Al Maktoum Stadium as the venue for the home game against Persian Gulf Pro League champion Persepolis on November 27.
Persepolis is to open its campaign in Group E – also featuring Qatar Stars League champion Al Duhail and Istiklol of Tajikistan – at home against Al Nassr on Sept. 19, though the AFC is yet to confirm the host stadium for the fixture, which will be a repeat of the last-four encounter in 2020, when the Tehran Reds came out victorious in the shootout before falling to a defeat to Ulsan Hyundai in the final.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Iranian fans would be dismayed by the Arriyadiyah report as they were hoping to welcome Al Nassr’s Portuguese superstar, as well as former Bayern Munich striker Sadio Mane and Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, to the Iranian capital.
Some of the big names in the European club football – including reigning Ballon D’Or winner Karim Benzema and Brazilian star Neyamr – have been lured by lucrative contracts in the summer transfer window to follow in the footsteps of Ronaldo in moving to the Saudi Pro League.
Benzema and his fellow Frenchman N’Golo Kante are part of the Al Ittihad team that is drawn against Iranian club Sepahan, Iraq’s Air Force Club and AGMK FC of Uzbekistan in Group C.
Iranian debutant Nassaji Mazandaran, meanwhile, will be facing a mammoth task in Group D, when taking on the 2019 and 2021 champion and last season’s runner-up Al Hilal, which will pay Neymar £129.4m a year – six times the amount he earned at PSG.
Indian Super League side Mumbai City FC and Uzbekistan’s Navbahor are also in the group.


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