Iranian football was hit with shocking news on Friday as Persian Gulf Pro League giants Persepolis and Esteghlal were omitted from the 2022 AFC Champions League.
The decision by the Asian football governing body’s independent Entry Control Body (ECB) to withdraw the licenses of the Tehran-based archrivals – as well as Gol Gohar Sirjan – came “pursuant to articles 14.4 and 14.5 of the AFC Club Licensing Regulations”, wrote the AFC’s official website.
“Persepolis FC, Esteghlal FC and Gol Gohar Sirjan FC have now been declared ineligible to participate in the 2022 AFC Champions League,” wrote the-AFC.com, after the three clubs failed to meet “all of the mandatory criteria (as required under articles 3.1 and 3.2(a) of the AFC Club Licensing Regulations).”
“The case file of these proceedings is referred to the secretariat of the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee for their further investigation and action (if considered appropriate),” added a media release by the AFC.
Dariush Mostafavi, the Iranian head of the Professional Licensing Appeals Committee, had underlined “the governmental ownership of Persepolis and Esteghlal, as well as their debts to former players and coaches,” as the main reasons behind the AFC’s decision.
The AFC had issued a petition to the ECB, calling for the omission of the three clubs, as they were given five days – until December 27 – to provide the AFC body with the required documentations.
Persepolis – Iranian champion for the past five seasons and an ACL finalist in 2018 and 2020 – had been handed a place in the west zone group stage of the Asian elite clubs’ competition, kicking off in May, while Esteghlal, which finished third in the Iranian league last term, had been given a playoff spot.
Foolad Khuzestan – Iran’s Hazfi Cup champion – are also guaranteed a group spot, while league runner-up Sepahan will have to secure its group place through the playoffs in April.