News ID: 320607
Published: 1017 GMT March 14, 2022

Persian Gulf Pro League: No room for cagey derby

Persian Gulf Pro League: No room for cagey derby

By Amirhadi Arsalanpour

As if the biggest showcase of the Iranian club football needed more excitement and hype in the build-up, a season-defining contest could well be in the cards.

When Persian Gulf Pro League top two, Esteghlal and Persepolis, step onto the pitch at the Azadi Stadium on Thursday to square off at the 98th Tehran derby, it will have been a rare occasion in recent history of the tie that one of the two will face a now-or-never situation.

Both sides have often been accused of adopting a conservative approach to the game over the years, seeking to avoid a defeat rather than going all out for a victory – the most recent evidence coming in a goalless draw when the familiar foes met in the corresponding fixture in December.

This time though, Reds’ supporters could be expecting their team to put in all its efforts to pull off probably the most important win of the season, which could prove to be more than just the bragging rights for them.

Esteghlal, meanwhile, knows that a first derby victory since March 2018 will add to the sweet taste of the winning the title, at the end of the season.

An untimely 2-0 away defeat against San’at Naft Abadan less than a fortnight ago saw Persepolis fall further behind in a rather two-horse title race.

The defending champion was right back in the winning ways on Friday, courtesy of a 2-1 win at Naft Masjed Soleyman, but Esteghlal’s 1-0 triumph over San’at Naft later in the day meant Farhad Majidi’s Blues would hold a six-point lead over their archrivals heading into the derby and, with seven games to spare until the end of the season, any result other than maximum points could all but end Reds’ quest for a sixth successive league title.

Figures are on Esteghlal’s side before the game as Friday’s victory extended Blues’ record unbeaten start to the  season to a remarkable 22 games, while goalkeeper Seyyed Hossein Hosseini kept a fifth clean sheet in six games – 16th for the Blues all season.

Another prefect defensive display – labeled by many as the major reason behind the Blues’ table-topping campaign – on Thursday will keep Esteghlal in pole position to lift a first league trophy since 2013.

Yahya Golmohammadi’s Persepolis, meanwhile, has been struggling on both ends of the pitch throughout the season, at least by its own standards.

Despite enjoying the most number of goals (33), the Reds have been constantly criticized for lacking clinical finishing in front of the goal, while they have conceded an uncharacteristic 16 goals, with Golmohammadi’s failure to find the best pair of center backs as well as Hamed Lak’s dreadful form of late between the posts being blamed for the Reds’ below-par campaign.

No matter what the outcome of Thursday’s battle, Iranian fans and pundits could be hoping to watch a Tehran derby unlike any other in recent years.


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