Iranian, Saudi Arabian soccer teams to host each other at home: AFC

Press TV – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has stated that teams from Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran will no longer need to meet each other in neutral venues.

Speaking at an AFC Competitions Committee session in the Japanese capital city of Tokyo on Friday, President of the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) Mehdi Taj protested the March decision by the Asian football’s governing body that the matches must be moved to a third country.

He stressed that the pro-Saudi ruling incurred substantial losses on Iranian football, discouraged sponsors and prevented football fans in Iran from cheering for their favorite teams in home games.

Iran is surely the safest country in the Middle East. It played host to the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification games of Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, Taj pointed out.

The committee, following behind-the-scenes negotiations, decided to overturn its previous ruling.

Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League professional soccer club Persepolis was forced to play Saudi Arabian clubs Al Ahli and Al Hilal in the Omani capital city of Muscat in addition to Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, in the 2017 AFC Champions League.

Three other Iranian clubs Esteghlal Khuzestan, Zob Ahan and Esteghlal also met Saudi Arabian teams Al Fateh, Al Ahli and Al Taawoun respectively in Oman.

Iranian and Saudi football federations have been at loggerheads following the severance of Tehran-Riyadh diplomatic ties earlier this year.

On January 3, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced that Saudi Arabia was severing diplomatic relations with Iran following attacks on vacant Saudi diplomatic premises in the Iranian cities of Tehran and Mashhad during otherwise peaceful rallies to protest the execution by Saudi Arabia of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

A small group of people mounted the walls of the Saudi consulate in Mashhad while incendiary devices were hurled at Riyadh’s embassy in Tehran. Iranian authorities apprehended some 50 people over the acts of transgression, and condemned the violations of the diplomatic perimeters.