AFC - Ahead of the 85th Tehran derby between Islamic Republic of Iran giants Esteghlal and Persepolis, the-AFC.com takes a look at the history of one of the fiercest and most iconic rivalries in Asian football.
The two teams will face off on Thursday, when the city of Tehran will see itself divided in two as high-flying Persepolis meet an Esteghlal side struggling in the Iran Pro League’s lower reaches in front of what will be an expectant and vibrant Azadi Stadium.
The establishing of the two clubs couldn’t be further apart. Esteghlal were founded in 1945 as Docharkhe Savaran – ‘The Cyclists’ – and was initially solely a cycling club, before other sports, among them football, were later introduced.
Blue was already the official colour by the time Esteghlal were bought in 1949 by an army general, whose first action was to change its name to Taj – ‘Crown’ – before the current name, which translates as ‘Independence’, was adopted in 1979.
Persepolis, whose name derives from the ancient capital of the old Persian Empire, had a more complicated beginning. The club was officially established in 1963, but was more of a continuation of Shahin FC, which was founded more than 20 years earlier in 1942.
Enormously popular, Shahin boasted some of the best Iranian players from that era, before being disbanded in 1967. However, the majority of their players would join Persepolis and the fans followed suit.
The first official match between Esteghlal and Persepolis, a 0-0 draw, then took place in 1968.
Amjadiyeh Stadium – now known as Shahid Shiroudi Stadium – was home to both clubs and the first setting of a Tehran derby. The venue, which is one of the oldest stadiums in Iran, is now used only for athletics competitions.
The inauguration of Aryamehr Stadium – now Azadi Stadium – in the early 1970s meant that both clubs moved to a newly opened 100,000-capacity venue. The derby is now held at the Azadi, also home to the national team, and is packed to the rafters when the sides meet.
When it comes to continental football, the blue side of the city have more to cheer about than their arch rivals.
Esteghlal, then known as Taj, won the 1970 Asian Club Championship – a precursor to the AFC Champions League – beating Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv 2-1 in the final in Tehran.
They then repeated their success in the 1990-91 competition when they defeated China’s Liaoning FC by the same scoreline in Dhaka, and remain the most successful Iranian team on the continental stage.
Persepolis have enjoyed less success in Asian tournaments, with their only triumph coming when they beat Bahrain’s Al Muharraq 1-0 on aggregate to claim the inaugural Asian Cup Winners’ Cup in 1990-91.
Two years later they made it to the final of the same competition, but were beaten 2-1 on aggregate by Japan’s Yokohama Marinos, while four semi-final appearances in the Asian Club Championship means they fall short of matching Esteghlal's winning record.
In the AFC Champions League, Persepolis have also never been able to make it to the final, but they made their debut appearance in the semi-finals this year before being ousted by Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.
A Match to Remember
The Tehran derby has produced many gripping encounters over the years, but few can match the 74th meeting between the teams in February 2012, when Esteghlal went into the game as clear favourites having recorded four straight wins against their city rivals.
Over 80,000 fans were in attendance on that cold winter evening at Azadi Stadium and they were treated to one of the most memorable comebacks the fixture has ever seen.
Esteghlal took a 1-0 lead into the break and then doubled their advantage just minutes after the interval, before Persepolis’s Mehrdad Oladi was sent off midway through the second half as Esteghlal appeared to be cruising towards victory.
However, minutes before the red card, Persepolis had brought on Irish-Libyan striker Eamon Zayed, and it was he who would prove the unlikely hero.
As the match entered the final 10 minutes, Zayed popped up to claw one back for the Reds and three minutes later the unthinkable happened as the forward headed home a Mehdi Mahdavikia cross to level the scores.
Esteghlal had capitulated and Zayed then completed his incredible hat-trick in the 91st minute as the stadium erupted and Persepolis recorded a stunning 3-2 victory over their bitter rivals.