After a 97-day break, the Persian Gulf Pro League gets underway on Thursday, as 16 teams will be back in action to battle for Iran’s top-flight football prize.
Three-time defending champion Persepolis will play the curtain riser at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium against Pars Jonoubi Jam – against which the Reds secured their title last season with a 1-0 away victory on the last day of the season.
New Persepolis manager Gabriel Calderon will get the taste of the Iranian football in his first official match in charge of the Iranian domestic double champion.
The Argentine will face the mammoth task of replacing Croatian Branko Ivankovic – who left Persepolis for the Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli job.
The Reds will have to do without suspended goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and injured midfielder Kamal Kamyabinia for Thursday’s fixture.
Elsewhere, Tractor Tabriz, which finished fifth last season, will start its new campaign with an away trip to southwest Iran, as the northwestern side plays Naft Masjed Soleyman.
Tractor’s passionate fans, who now see veteran Turkish Mustafa Denizli as their side’s new manager, will be hoping Tractor will pull off a real challenge for the title.
On Friday, Esteghlal will start its season with a tricky away match at Mashinsazi Tabriz.
Like their archrival Persepolis, the Iranian Blues will also see a new face in their dugout.
Italian Andrea Stramaccioni, former head coach of Inter and Udinese in Serie A, will be steering a totally revitalized Esteghlal, which have signed the likes of Cheick Diabaté, Ali Dashti, Arash Rezavand, Siavash Yazdani and, most-recently, ex-Fiorentina fullback Hrvoje Milić.
Amir Ghal’enoei’s Sepahan will also kick off the season with an away trip, as the five-time champion will square off against newly-promoted Shahin Shahrdari Boushehr.
Having finished second in the league with the Isfahan-based club last season, Ghal’enoei – the league’s most decorated manager – will definitely be among the favorites to lift the trophy – in his second spell at the club.
Also on the first weekend of the league, last season’s surprise package Padideh Shahr Khodro will go head-to-head with Paykan, while Alireza Mansourian’s Zob Ahan hosts Saipa.
Foolad Khuzestan, with the former Iranian international Javad Nekounam in charge, will meet San’at Naft Abadan in Khuzestan’s derby on Friday.