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‘Historic’ agreement between Riyadh, Tehran will see Ronaldo play in Iran

September 5, 2023 at 12:35 pm

Cristiano Ronaldo of Al Nassr celebrates with teammates after the team’s victory in the Arab Club Champions Cup Final between Al Hilal and Al Nassr at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on August 12, 2023 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]

In a “historic move”, Saudi and Iranian football federations have reached a ground-breaking deal to resume home-and-away matches between clubs from both countries. This ends a seven-year period where games were held at neutral venues due to strained relations. The agreement comes as Saudi Arabia and Iran continue efforts to restore diplomatic ties

Saudi teams will travel to Iran for upcoming Asian Champions League matches. This includes Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr playing Tehran’s Persepolis on 19 September. Several other Saudi clubs are also scheduled to play in Iran during the group stage.

The move by the two countries’ football federations would contribute to “fostering closer ties between their respective footballing communities, allowing clubs to host matches on their home turf and visiting the respective away stadiums, creating a more engaging and exciting experience for the fans and players alike”, the AFC said in a statement yesterday.

The AFC welcomed the “historic move” adding that it reflects the commitment of Saudi Arabia and Iran “towards fostering closer ties between their respective footballing communities”.

Prior to yesterday’s agreement between the two AFC Member Associations, all matches between the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) and Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) at the national and club levels were mandated to be played in neutral venues in accordance with the 2016 decision of the AFC Competitions Committee and AFC Executive Committee.

Saudi-Iran ties have steadily progressed since a rapprochement deal in March. The two great oil-producing rivals of the Middle East, agreed to restore ties and reopen embassies, seven years after relations were severed. Since the March deal, Saudi Arabia has further expressed its aspiration to start a “new phase” with Iran based on common interests and mutual respect between the two countries.

However, the budding Saudi-Iran entente comes as Iran’s relations with Israel deteriorate. It remains unclear how warming Riyadh-Tehran ties could impact Saudi-Israeli relations long-term. The US is mediating a deal between the Gulf monarchy and the apartheid state. Speculations are that President Joe Biden may do whatever it takes – including offering Riyadh security guarantees and access to nuclear energy – to secure a deal.