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Iranians give Ronaldo an excited welcome in Tehran

This handout picture provided by the media office of Iranian football club Persepolis FC on September 18, 2023 shows Saudi football club al-Nassr’s Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (3rd-R) posing for a picture with officials upon arrival at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, a day ahead of the AFC Champions League group E match between Persepolis FC and al-Nassr FC. (Photo by Persepolis FC / AFP)

Crowds of Iranian football fans gave Cristiano Ronaldo a rapturous welcome on Monday as his Saudi team arrived in Teheran for the first home-and-away club tie since the two countries resumed diplomatic relations.

Fans chanted the name of the Portuguese five-time world player of the year as he arrived with his Al Nassr teammates to face Iranian club Persepolis in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday.

The match will be the first since Tehran and Riyadh reached a China-brokered deal announced in March.

Teams from both countries had only played matches on neutral grounds since 2016 when Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran severed ties.

In Tehran, excitement filled the air as fans eagerly waited to catch a glimpse of Ronaldo as he left Iran’s Imam Khomeini’s airport.

Large crowds of cheering fans lined the streets as Ronaldo and his team arrived at a hotel in Tehran on board a bus.

Others chanting “Ronaldo, Ronaldo!” even flooded into the hotel lobby.

Posters of Ronaldo sprung up across the Iranian capital’s main streets emblazoned with “Welcome”, written in Arabic, English, and Farsi.

“I think it will be a beautiful game and will have a lot of excitement,” said 28-year-old Navid Borhanifar, a Ronaldo fan.

“It’s very exciting for me.”

Sadly for the fans, none will be allowed to attend the match which will be