The opening day of the new Persian Gulf Pro League season on August 12 will see two Portuguese managers make their debuts in the Iranian top flight when Esteghlal and Sepahan square off at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.
Ricardo Sa Pinto will be looking to lead Esteghlal to a second successive title – following a remarkable unbeaten campaign under Farhad Majidi – while Jose Morais, who took over from club legend Moharram Navidkia, will be chasing a first league trophy in eight years for the Isfahan-based outfit.
Sa Pinto will get a first taste of Tehran derby on matchday 12 – with the date yet to be confirmed – when his team takes on Persepolis.
Yahya Golmohammadi’s Persepolis, whose run of five consecutive titles came to an end last season, will begin its quest for a record-extending eighth championship with a visit to Isfahan against Zob Ahan, before playing Foolad Khuzestan in the first home fixture.
Foolad, looking to improve on a fifth-spot finish last season under Javad Nekounam, welcomes San’at Naft Abadan to the Foolad Arena for its league opener.
Amir Qalenoei’s Golgohar Sirjan, which had to settle for the fourth place in table – five points adrift of Sepahan – after being handed a seven-point deduction by the Iranian football governing body, will kick off its campaign at home against Tractor, which will have a new head coach on the bench in Russian-Turkmen Kurban Berdyev.
Mes Kerman will play in a first Pro League game in eight years at Naft Masjed Soleyman, while Malavan Bandar Anzali, which won promotion back to the top flight after six years in the second division, will visit Paykan in Tehran.
Hazfi Cup champion Nassaji Mazandaran, with Hamid Motahari – former No. 2 to Golmohammadi in Persepolis – in charge, will host Mes Rafsanjan, and Aluminium Arak and Havadar will lock horns in Arak.
Fixtures will come thick and fast as the Iranian clubs are set to play four round of matches before the national team heads into a training camp on September 11, ahead of a couple of friendly fixtures in the upcoming international break.
Soheil Mehdi, the head of the League Organization’s Competitions Committee, said during Monday’s draw for the new season that the Football Federation “will be eager” for the league to reach the halfway point before Iran flies to Qatar for the World Cup, starting November 21.