AFC Champions League game between Al Ittihad and Sepahan to be replayed

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said that he was in contact with his Saudi counterparts to make arrangements to reschedule the fixture

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The AFC Champions League match between Sepahan and Al Ittihad that was cancelled on Monday will be replayed at a later date, the Iranian Foreign Minister has said.

Hossein Amir Abdollahian said that he was in contact with his Saudi counterparts to make arrangements to replay the fixture.

The Group C match at the Naghsh-e-Jahan Stadium in Isfahan was called off after Ittihad reportedly refused to enter the pitch because a bust of the late Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general Qassem Suleimani was on display at the entrance.

"Our relationship with the kingdom is moving in the right direction. I agreed with the Saudi Foreign Minister not to allow sport to be a political tool," the ISNA news agency reported Mr Abdollahian as saying.

Mr Abdollahian did not elaborate on when the fixture would take place. The next round of AFC Champions League group games is slated for October 23 and 24. Sepahan are set to face AMGK away while Ittihad host Al Quwa Al Jawiya.

Iraq's Al Quwa sit top of the group with four points from two games ahead of Ittihad on three points from their one fixture. Sepahan are third on one point with AMGK of Uzbekistan bottom.

Neither the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Sport nor Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) have commented on the possibility of a replay taking place.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the continent’s governing body, said that Monday's match had been “cancelled due to unanticipated and unforeseen circumstances”.

The AFC has yet to comment on Mr Abdollahian's remarks or say when a suitable window to play the game could be made. The two teams are scheduled to play what would have been the corresponding fixture, at King Abdulaziz Sports City in Makkah, on December 4.

Until last month, Asian Champions League matches involving clubs from Iran and Saudi Arabia had been played at neutral grounds following the severance in 2016 of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

However, last month the AFC announced a “ground-breaking agreement” between the countries' respective federations. On September 19, Saudi Pro League side Al Nassr took on Persepolis at Azadi Stadium – the first time a Saudi club played in Iran since 2016.

Al Ittihad, two-time Asian champions, left the stadium not long after the postponement was confirmed to fly back to Jeddah.

On Tuesday morning, the club said in a statement: “Al Ittihad Club wishes to clarify that upon its arrival on Monday, October 2, at the stadium designated for the match against the Iranian Sepahan Club, the AFC inspector told them that the match would not take place on the scheduled date and that the team can leave the stadium. Subsequently, the club's delegation left the stadium en route to the airport.

“Al Ittihad Club intends to pursue the details of this decision and urges the AFC to protect the club's rights as stipulated by the rules and regulations.

“In this regard, the club expresses gratitude for the attention and support received from the Ambassador of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Ministry of Sports, and the Saudi Football Federation.”

Updated: October 04, 2023, 4:31 PM