• He is loved in Iran because of his support for Palestine – Persepolis’ president
Tehran experienced a surge of excitement on Monday as Saudi side Al Nassr, led by its captain Cristiano Ronaldo, arrived in the Iranian capital where it was greeted by a throng of enthusiastic fans.
Al Nassr, the first Saudi team to visit Iran since 2016, arrived in Tehran to kick off its Asian Champions League campaign against Persepolis at the Azadi Stadium on Tuesday, with the return match scheduled for November 27 in Riyadh.
Persepolis Club Media Officer:
"Cristiano Ronaldo created a historic day. It was a truly wonderful day by welcoming Al Nassr and their legendary player, due to his overwhelming popularity in Iran. The fans had been waiting for this moment for a long time in order to see him in… pic.twitter.com/mmHFnVVOLJ
— Al Nassr Zone (@TheNassrZone) September 19, 2023
This marks the first time that Ronaldo has set foot in the Islamic Republic.
Videos circulating on social media showed the massive gathering of fans outside the Espinas Palace Hotel in Tehran, where Al Nassr is lodged. In one video, young men could be seen emulating Ronaldo’s iconic “Siu” celebration near the hotel.
A separate video captured a large crowd inside the hotel, enthusiastically cheering and recording on their mobile phones as Ronaldo made his entrance.
— AJE Sport (@AJE_Sport) September 18, 2023
Another video showed a large number of fans congregating outside the hotel as Al Nassr’s team bus arrived. In this footage, security forces could be seen desperately trying to maintain order and keep the fans away from the bus.
Al Nassr posted several photos of Ronaldo receiving a luxurious hand-made Iranian carpet from Persepolis supporters.
“Mr. Cristiano Ronaldo, welcome to Iran. A token of appreciation, an original hand-woven piece of art made by Iranian artists to commemorate your presence in Iran, on behalf of Persepolis’s fans,” the fans wrote.
Ronaldo and his teammates have been placed under the protection of an “elite unit”, specialised in securing presidential visits, according to sports website Varzesh 3.
The unit will be in charge of “preventing any contact between fans and players of the Saudi team,” it added.
Ronaldo’s arrival has also sparked a debate over Iran’s internet restrictions.
Iran has imposed strict internet curbs — including on WhatsApp and Instagram — since last year’s mass protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, had been arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
Last week, Persepolis’s general manager Reza Darvish proposed that the Saudi team be given SIM cards with unfiltered internet access.
“I have talked to the CEO of Irancell (a local provider and sponsor to Persepolis) and asked for SIM cards for… players and those who accompany them with unlimited internet,” he said in a press conference.
Reza Darvish (Persepolis President):
“I spoke with Cristiano Ronaldo and he told me that he was very happy with the reception, and I told him that he is very loved in Iran because of his support for the Palestinian cause.” pic.twitter.com/ScG2b4aRVM
— Al Nassr Zone (@TheNassrZone) September 18, 2023
‘He is loved for his support for Palestine‘
On Ronaldo’s arrival in Tehran, while reacting to the warm reception given to him by Iranian fans, Reza Darvish said, “I spoke with Cristiano Ronaldo and he told me that he was very happy with the reception, and I told him that he is very loved in Iran because of his support for the Palestinian cause.”
Earlier this month, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced that matches between Saudi and Iranian teams would be held on a home-and-away basis after the agreement of the two local federations. This followed the restoration of relations between the two countries in March.
Matches had been played on neutral territory since 2016 because strained diplomatic ties between the two countries meant Saudi nationals were not permitted to travel to Iran.
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