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Cristiano Ronaldo fever spreads to Tehran as Al Nassr prepare to face Persepolis

Cristiano Ronaldo’s debut in the AFC Champions League sees him lead Al Nassr to Tehran where they take on two-time finalists Persepolis at the Azadi Stadium in the Iranian capital.

The Saudi side’s arrival, led by Ronaldo and Sadio Mane, sparked an unprecedented wave of welcoming celebrations as thousands of Iranians lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner when the team bus departed Imam Khomeini International Airport. Meanwhile, billboards welcoming Al Nassr players in Arabic, Farsi and English hung in the streets of Tehran.

The visit is the first for a Saudi club to Iran since 2016, when the two countries severed their diplomatic ties, with teams having to play their AFC Champions League games on neutral grounds from the UAE to Oman to Qatar in recent years.

The most recent encounter between the two teams took place at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha in the semi-finals of the 2020 edition. A 1-1 draw saw the game go to a penalty shoot-out in which Persepolis emerged winners to advance to their second final in three years. They would go on to lose against Korean side Ulsan Hyundai, having also lost to Japan’s Kashima Antlers in the 2018 final.

This season, Ronaldo and company have already navigated a tricky play-off tie against Shabab Al Ahli from Dubai, coming from 2-1 down with two minutes to go to turn it around thanks to goals from Sultan Al Ghannam, Anderson Talisca and Marcelo Brozovic to reach the competition proper.

Alongside Persepolis, Al Nassr’s challenging group includes Qatari powerhouse Al Duhail, who had reached the semi-finals of last year’s edition under the guidance of head coach Hernan Crespo and have since bolstered their squad with the signing of Brazilian playmaker