Persepolis scapegoat Zahedi relishing in life in Japanese top flight

By Amirhadi


Staff writer

The wonder goal against Gamba Osaka in the J1 League on Friday was the latest episode in a roller-coaster season for Avispa Fukuoka’s Iranian striker Shahab Zahedi.
The Iranian picked up the ball midway through his own half, saw the keeper off his line, and suddenly unleashed a left-footed strike from over 70 yards out which found the back the net as Avispa went on to win 1-0 and end a run of four successive draws.
When Zahedi, 28, decided to leave Persian Gulf Pro League giant Persepolis in March to become the first Iranian to play in the Japanese top flight, few fans and pundits fancied him to find instant success in the Far East.
However, being no stranger to twists and turns throughout his career, Zahedi has enjoyed a flying start to life in the J1 League as his goal against Gamba was his sixth in eight matches for Avispa.
Zahedi, whose previous spell in the Tehran Reds shirt had finished with four cameo appearances a decade ago, rejoined the Iranian capital side on loan from Ukrainian club Zorya Lugansk in the summer with high expectations weighing on his shoulders.
He returned to the Iranian league after six impressive seasons across Europe – during which he bagged 50 goals and 14 assists in an overall 148 games for Iceland’s ÍBV, Zorya and Olimpik Donetsk in Ukraine, as well as Hungarian side Puskás Akadémia.
With Issa Alekasir and Mahdi Abdi leaving Persepolis for the start of the new season, Zahedi was left with the enormous task of leading the line for the defending league and cup champion, which has been crying out for a prolific marksman ever since Ali Alipour left for Portuguese league in September 2020.
It took Zahedi five games into the season to get off the mark for the Reds – the winner in the home victory over Golgohar last October which was followed by a hat-trick in the 3-1 win at Paykan.
The Iranian had to wait another seven matches to find a league goal, when he headed home on the half-hour mark to secure maximum points against Nassaji Mazandaran before he netted a sublime scissor kick in the 1-1 draw at Mes Rafsanjan on the following matchday.
Finding the net once in the Reds’ ill-fated AFC Champions League campaign – a header in the 2-1 home defeat against Al Duhail which saw Persepolis crash out of the group stage – Zahedi had seven goals and two assists under his belt and was the club’s top scorer for the season when he made his final appearance for the club against Mes on the first day of the new year.
Still, constantly blamed for the team’s lack of efficiency in front of the goal, Zahedi hardly won the Persepolis supporters over and his decision to skip a couple of training sessions to force a winter exit did not seem to disturb any of the Reds faithful, who were welcoming back Alekasir from Sepahan, while new Uzbek signing Oston Urunov added more depth to the frontline.
Zahedi, meanwhile, wasted no time in making his mark for the new employers as he contributed with an assist in his debut as a substitute against FC Tokyo before scoring in back-to-back matches, the later coming in a 1-0 triumph over former Asian champion Kashima Antlers in April.
For all their unimpressive campaigns in Europe this season, Porto talisman Mahdi Taremi and Roma striker Sardar Azmoun may still be the favorites to make a frontline partnership for the national team, but few would argue against in-form Zahedi – capped only once by Iran – deserving a call-up by head coach Amir Qalenoei for the World Cup qualifiers against Hong Kong and Uzbekistan in June.

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