January 7, 2022
The route for Saudi Arabian clubs to the 2022 AFC Champions League title was made a little easier on Friday with news that Iranian giants Persepolis and Esteghlal have been expelled from this year’s tournament.
The two teams from Tehran have had their licenses to participate in the 32-team competition, which was won last year by Al-Hilal, revoked, meaning that they will not be allowed to take part when the group stage starts in April.
A third club, Gol Gahar Sirjan, did not qualify for the tournament but have also had their license revoked which means they cannot be considered as a potential replacement.
In a statement, the Asian Football Confederation said: “The Entry Control Body determined that the three clubs had not satisfied all of the mandatory criteria … and, accordingly, should not have been granted licenses to participate in the AFC Champions League 2022.”
While the AFC did not provide details, Arab News has been told that there were problems with the fact that Persepolis and Esteghlal, who share the same Azadi Stadium in the capital, have long been owned by Iran’s Ministry of Sport and Youth. Moves by authorities in Tehran to transfer ownership to different government departments were actions regarded as either insufficient or too late. There were also reportedly tax and debt issues as the organization tightens its regulations.
The decision will be a blow to Iranian football and the country’s two biggest clubs which have enjoyed some titanic struggles with Saudi Arabian teams over the years. In 2021 alone, Al-Hilal defeated Esteghlal in the second round before going on to eliminate Persepolis at the quarter-final stage.
Persepolis have won the last five league titles in Iran and appeared in the final of Asia’s premier club competition in 2018 and 2020. Bitter rivals Esteghlal have won eight league titles and were crowned champions of Asia in 1970 and 1991.
Replacements will be announced in the coming days after the AFC has carried out licensing checks. Foolad are already assured of a place in the group stage by virtue of winning the Hazfi Cup, while Sepahan were in the play-off spots.
The draw for the group stage of the 2022 edition will be held on Jan. 17 in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Saudi Arabia have three representatives in the first round: Defending champions Al-Hilal, as well as league runners-up Al-Shabab, and King’s Cup winners Al-Faisaly. Al-Taawoun have been placed in the qualifying stages.
Champions Al-Jazira and Shabab Al-Ahli will represent the UAE in the group stage while Al-Sadd, Al-Duhail, and Al-Rayyan will fly the flag for Iraq. Jordan’s Al-Wehdat, and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya of Iraq, will also be there.