0945 GMT November 21, 2019
Esteghlal of the southern province of Khuzestan that struggled to climb out of relegation zone last season was the surprising package of the 15th Iran Pro League (IPL) as it was crowned in front of football-crazy home fans in Ahvaz Friday.
Cheered by over 45,000 spectators waving their blue flags in Ghadir Stadium, Esteghlal edged past visitor Zob Ahan 2-0 in the league’s last game to deny the capital’s red-shirted Persepolis the championship on goal difference.
Manager Abdollah Veissi took his hat off to striker Rahim Zahivi, who celebrated his double after finding Zob’s net on 56 an 59 minutes, pouring cold water on the Reds’ camp in Tehran.
Given Esteghlal’s double, Persepolis, which was a shadow of itself in the deciding match against relegation-zone side Rah Ahan, should have netted four to outscore the southerners.
In spite of possessing the ball and field almost throughout the game, Persepolis played a cagey and spiritless football in the first half before more than 100,000 fans packing the capital’s Azadi Stadium.
After the break, the capital’s popular team upped the ante as almost all players except the goalie advanced to break the deadlock and Rah Ahan’s 11-strong defense wall. The mounting pressure had finally its impact — not on the struggling Rah Ahan but on ref Reza Kermanshahi, who gifted Persepolis a penalty kick for a foul outside the box. Midfielder Ramin Rezaeian beat in-form keeper Mohsen Forouzan nine minutes from time.
Substitute Ahmad Nourollahi receiving a superb pass in the box in the 82nd minute failed to double the scoring with a misfired side-footed drive over the crossbar. But he was on the scoresheet three minutes later as the fast-paced midfielder Mohsen Mosalman picked up the ball in a swift counterattack and cleared his marker before leaving Nourollahi alone with an unguarded net to find from close range.
The dying minutes of the two nail-biting clashes had kept all fans in the stadiums and those gluing to their TVs on their toes until Rah Ahan dampened the Reds' hopes, beating Persepolis goalie Alexander Lobanov in a man-to-man challenge on 89 minutes.
The consolation goal did nothing for Rah Ahan and the capital-based team was relegated on meager 25 points.
Esteghlal of Khuzestan scaled the summit with 57 points, followed by Persepolis with the same asset and Esteghlal of Tehran garnering 52.
The bottom-place Esteghlal of Ahvaz and the northern side Malavan did not also survive.