The new seeding for the 2022 AFC Champions League (ACL) will see Iranian clubs Foolad Khuzestan and Sepahan being secured a place in the group stage of the competition, kicking off in May, according to Footy Rankings, a website dedicated to AFC club competitions rankings.
The new West Zone seeding comes after Persian Gulf Pro League giants Persepolis and Esteghlal on Friday were omitted from the new season of the Asian elite clubs’ competition due to failure in meeting all of the mandatory criteria of the AFC Club Licensing Regulations.
Javad Nekounam’s Foolad had already booked its place in the group phase as the Iranian Hazfi Cup champion, but is now seeded in Pot 1 of the January 17 draw, alongside defending champion Al Hilal, Qatari giants Al Duhail and Al Sadd, and Emirati champion Al Jazira.
Sepahan, which was initially to play in the playoffs as the league runner-up, will now enjoy a direct qualification for the group stage and will be placed in Pot 2 – also featuring Saudi sides Al Faisaly and Al Shabab, Qatar’s Al Rayyan and Shabab Al Ahli of the UAE.
‘Black Friday of Iranian football’, headlined the front page of Iran newspaper after Tehran-based archrivals Persepolis and Esteghlal – as well as Gol Gohar Sirjan – were declared ineligible by the AFC’s independent Entry Control Body (ECB) to participate in the new ACL season.
Persepolis manager Yahya Golmohammadi, whose team was beaten in the final of competition by Ulsan Hyundai in 2020, described the news as “historic disgrace for our football.”
“This was really shocking for a team that has played in the final twice in recent years. It is truly hard for me to bear the fact and those responsible for the situation will have to be held accountable,” added the Iranian head coach.
The AFC had first issued a petition to the ECB last month, calling for the omission of the three Iranian clubs, as they were given five days – until December 27 – to provide the AFC body with the required documentations.
Dariush Mostafavi, the head of the Iranian 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.
Majid Sadri, the acting general manager of Persepolis, put the blame on Iranian federation’s Professional Licensing Primary Committee for the situation, while also criticizing the Asian football governing body itself.
“The AFC has underscored our debts for the decision, while $3.4 million of our assets has been frozen by the organization [due to sanctions] and numerous letters by us to receive the sum have remained unanswered,” Sadri said.