With half of the Persian Gulf Pro League season gone, Esteghlal is now surely the favorite to bring an end to the five-year dominance of archrival Persepolis over the Iranian club football.
On Thursday, the Tehran-based Blues eased to a 3-0 victory over Naft Masjed Soleyman in southern Iran to retain the top spot of table with 35 points – three clear of nearest rival Persepolis.
Amir-Hossein Hosseinzadeh got Farhad Majidi’s men off the mark in the 16th minute with a first-touch strike from the edge of the box.
Blues’ prodigy scored his second seven minutes after the interval when his low drive in the box found the bottom-left corner.
French summer signing Kevin Yamga bagged his seventh goal of the campaign with a well-taken chip six minutes later as Esteghlal rounded off the first half of the season in emphatic fashion.
Enjoying the best tallies on both ends of the pitch – scoring 21 (regardless of the 3-0 win over Gol Gohar Sirjan handed by the federation’s Disciplinary Committee) and conceding only five while keeping a remarkable 11 clean sheets – and with Persepolis and Sepahan yet to show consistency in their title charge, Esteghlal heads into the second half of the season with high hopes of claiming a first league title since 2013, when Majidi lifted the trophy as the skipper.
Later on Thursday, defending champion Persepolis had to wait 69 minutes for a somewhat lucky goal to grind out a 1-0 victory over Fajr Sepasi at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.
A Mehdi Torabi’s cross, destined for Kamal Kamyabinia, went in without holding midfielder making a touch.
The victory, however, was enough for Yahya Golmohammadi’s men to establish a three-point lead over third-placed Sepahan, which shared the points with its host Aluminium Arak in a goalless encounter earlier in the day.
The stalemate kept Aluminium in fourth place – 11 points off the top – as in-form Mes Rafsanjan failed to overtake Rasoul Khatibi’s side after settling for a goalless draw at home against sixth-placed Paykan.
That was the same scoreline between Gol Gohar and Zob Ahan in Sirjan, while Hadi Mohammadi scored for Tractor with 11 minutes left from normal time to cancel out Amir-Mehdi Janmaleki’s 55th-minute opener for Nassaji Mazandaran as the game in Tabriz finished 1-1.
Shervin Bozorg and Mehdi Mamizadeh scored in each half before Mehdi Abdi netted a consolation deep into stoppage time as San’at Naft Abadan walked away with a massive 2-1 away victory over Havadar to go eight points clear of the relegation zone.
In Ahavaz, Brazilian Luciano Pereira netted from the spot with 10 minutes into the game and Ayanda Patosi added a second five minutes before the break as Foolad Khuzestan beat rock-bottom side Padideh 2-0 at home.