Cristiano Ronaldo was given a rapturous reception in Iran on Monday ahead of Al Nassr's historic Asian Champions League clash against Persepolis.
The Al Nassr captain will lead his side out in what is the first visit of a Saudi Arabian team to Iran since 2016 after Tehran and Riyadh reached a China-brokered deal that was announced in March.
The streets were crowded with fans who raised welcome banners and pictures of Ronaldo upon the arrival of the team after the restoration of relations between the two countries, re-establishing diplomatic relations and bringing back their respective embassies.
After seven years of playing at neutral destinations following a breakdown in diplomatic ties, clubs of the two regional powerhouses are now able to play in home and away ties following the lifting of a travel ban on Saudi nationals travelling to Iran.
The Asian Football Confederation called it a “historic move” as it reflects the commitment of Saudi Arabia and Iran “towards fostering closer ties between their respective footballing communities”.
Since 2016, Saudi and Iranian clubs drawn together in the Champions League had used stadiums in Dubai and Doha.
On Monday, supporters invaded the team's hotel, despite attempts by security personnel to prevent them. The fans chanted Ronaldo's name, with children and women carrying pictures of the Portugal captain.
Al Nassr posted several photos of Ronaldo receiving a luxurious handmade Iranian carpet from Persepolis supporters.
Children wore Al Nassr and Portugal shirts bearing Ronaldo’s name and number, and some fans performed the famous celebration of the former Real Madrid player.
Posters of Ronaldo sprung up across the Iranian capital's main streets emblazoned with “Welcome”, written in Arabic, English, and Farsi.
“I think it will be a beautiful game and will have a lot of excitement,” Navid Borhanifar, a Ronaldo fan, told AFP. “It's very exciting for me.”
Sadly for the fans, none will be allowed to attend the match which will be held at the gigantic Azadi Stadium, which can host up to 90,000 people.
The AFC have ruled that the game be played behind closed doors as punishment for a controversial 2021 online post by Persepolis before a match against Indian team FC Goa.
Persepolis are one of the region's most successful clubs and reached the final of the Asian Champions League in 2018 and 2020, while Al Nassr won the tournament in 1995.
Other matches between the two countries will take place in the coming weeks. Reigning Saudi champions Al Ittihad – who have signed the likes of Ballon d'Or holder Karim Benzema, French World Cup winner N'Golo Kante and Brazil midfielder Fabinho during the summer – are scheduled to play Iran's Sepahan on October 2.
Four-time Asian champions Al Hilal – with Brazil star Neymar, Portugal midfielder Ruben Neves and Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic among their recent arrivals – are scheduled to meet Iran's Nassaji Mazandaran on October 3.