After a goalless stalemate at Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Stadium, Foolad Khuzestan beat Esteghlal 4-2 in the shootout to win the Hazfi Cup, bringing the curtain the down on a long, exhausting Iranian football season.
Foolad keeper Mohsen Forouzan, who was only called into action late in the stoppage time, saved Dariush Shojaeian’s spot kick and Farshid Esmaeili’s effort went wide, while Foolad players converted all four.
Esteghlal players thought they had taken an early lead in the shootout after Rashid Mazaheri cleared Seyyed Mehran Mousavi’s penalty, only to see the spot kick being repeated after the referee Bijan Heidari decided that Blues keeper had come off his line before the effort.
The result means Foolad will join Persian Gulf Pro League champions Persepolis, as well as Sepahan and Esteghlal at next season’s AFC Champions League.
The trophy is the first in Javad Nekounam’s career as a manager, who had led Foolad to an impressive third-spot finish in the league last year.
Dedicating the triumph to the people of Khuzestan, Nekounam hailed everyone at the club for “all their tireless efforts throughout the season, despite a transfer ban.”
“We proved since the first day of the season that we are a high-quality team capable of playing well-equipped sides,” added Nekounam, for whom Sunday’s match could be the last experience on Foolad’s bench.
“All clubs in Iran dream of having Nekounam as manager. He has done a great job here over the past two years. I hope the club will convince him to stay,” Foolad captain Ayoub Vali said after the match.
Meanwhile, Esteghlal fans will have to wait at least another season for silverware, having last seen their team win a trophy in 2018, when they won the Iranian domestic cup competition.