Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Iran: Persepolis take honours in Tehran Derby

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on February 4, 2010

On Wednesday evening there was a grand occasion befitting one of the great stadiums in world football, where two of the game’s fiercest rivals went toe-to-toe in the latest meeting of one of the world’s great football derbies. Real Madrid v Barcelona? Liverpool v Manchester United? River Plate v Boca Juniors? No, it was none of these. The game we’re talking about is the Tehran Derby between Persepolis FC and Esteghlal FC, the heavyweights of Iranian football.

This is a thoroughly modern footballing rivalry with the first encounter between these two great clubs having been played in 1968 (for the record it finished 0-0). The Azadi stadium, home to both clubs, is always full to its 90.000 capacity when these teams meet and Wednesday was no exception. Esteghlal, defending champions of the Persian Gulf Cup (the trophy given to the league champions), have struggled a bit this season but were lying in third place before the game ahead of their arch-rivals on goal difference. With Sepahan FC currently leading the table by a comfortable distance (six points with a game in hand on nearest challengers Zob Ahan FC) the priority for both teams is to finish in the top three which would guarantee them an automatic place for the 2011 AFC Champions League. Fourth place, similar to the UEFA Champions League, will only be good enough to qualify for a play-off round so Wednesday’s game still had plenty of importance to both teams’ seasons.

Esteghlal FC had the upper hand on the overall head-to-heard record before kick-off with 20 wins compared to Persepolis’ 16 wins in 67 matches (31 drawn). Early in the contest it looked as though they would improve on their record when they took the lead after 16 minutes, Fehrad Majidi was put through and got the better of Persepolis’ keeper Haghighi in a one-on-one situation to put the Blues ahead. However Persepolis, record champions in Iran with eight titles compared to Esteghlal’s six, were in no mood for letting their rivals have their own way and with nine minutes of the first half to play had scored the equalizing goal thanks to Hamid Ali-Askar. Typically in any derby match the second half became tense with both teams going all out for three points. After the first derby match of the season had finished 1-1 it was evident that both teams wanted to win the game and secure the local bragging rights for the rest of the season. Just as the game appeared to be heading towards another stalemate the crucial goal was struck three minutes from the end as Karim Bagheri secured the three points for Persepolis with a wonder goal from long-range to give the Reds a 2-1 victory (see video at top of the page).

The win meant that Persepolis replaced their arch-rivals into third place whilst Esteghlal must be wary of the threat posed by Steel Azin FC, for whom Iranian legend Mehdi Mahdavikia signed from Eintracht Frankfurt in the recent transfer window, who lie just a point further behind in the table. With eight games to go in the Iran Pro-League it will prove to be a fascinating fight to the finish.