Saipa goalkeeper Mohammad-Hossein Akbar-Monadi produced a man-of-the-match performance as champion Persepolis was held to a goalless draw on the first day of the new Persian Gulf Pro League season on Friday.
Persepolis striker Mehdi Abdi probably felt unlucky not to get off the mark before being substituted as his ninth-minute point-blank effort was well-saved by Akbar-Monadi before his low drive hit the post right before the interval.
Ehsan Pahlevan and Milad Sarlak also went close to open the deadlock in each half for the Reds but Saipa keeper was again on high alert to keep out their long-range efforts.
Persepolis had to finish the game with 10 men as midfielder Kamal Kamyabinia received his marching orders for a second bookable offense with 10 minutes from the normal time.
Javad Nekounam’s Foolad Khuzestan, which finished in an impressive third spot last season, had to thank a new signing Sasan Ansari’s 97th-minute penalty to avoid a first-day defeat against Zob Ahan Isfahan.
Foolad center-back Moussa Coulibaly headed home a Mohammad Abshak’s cross for the first goal of the new season but two goals inside three minutes in the second half by Croatian Darko Bjedov saw the host take a surprising lead.
Foolad’s late push for an equalizer paid off as Ansari’s first goal on his return to the southern Iranian side made the game finish 2-2.
Also on Friday, goals from Saied Beigi, Hamed Shiri, and Milad Kamandani gave Nassaji Mazandaran an away 3-0 victory over Aluminium Arak, while in Tabriz, Tractor settled for goalless draw against Naft Masjed Soleyman.
Saturday’s fixtures see Esteghlal, under new manager Mahmoud Fekri, open its campaign at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium against newly-promoted Mes Rafsanjan.
Last season’s runner-up will be without its seven summer signings, including goalkeeper Rashid Mazaheri and fullback Mohammad Naderi, in Saturday’s game as the FIFA’s transfer ban on the Blues – due to ex-manager Winfried Schafer’s financial case – is yet to be lifted, though the Tehran-based club insists it has paid all delayed wages of the German.
Also on the opening matchday, Sepahan legend Moharam Navidkia, who hopes to bring back the glory days of his playing career with the club, will embark on a new chapter, as the manager of the Isfahan-based giant, when playing away to Amir Qalenoei’s Golgohar Sirjan.
Qalenoei himself will have a point to prove against his former club after a run of disappointing results saw the league’s most decorated manager’s days in Sepahan end in the latter stages of last season.
Elsewhere, Mehdi Rahmati’s Shahr Khodro will host Mashinsazi Tabriz, with San’at Naft and Paykan squaring off in Abadan.