AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Tehran and Iran go wild for former Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo
The Al Nassr striker received a Persian rug on arrival but has limited internet use ahead of a AFC Champions League game against Persepolis.
Cristiano Ronaldo and his Al Nassr team are proving to be a huge attraction in Iran. On Monday, the Saudi Pro League team travelled to Tehran, the Iranian capital, where they will face Persepolis in their first group game of the 2023-24 AFC Champions League on Tuesday (kick-off at 2:00 p.m ET).
According to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Persepolis is the most popular club in Asia, although the scenes in Tehran in the last few hours would suggest Ronaldo is a candidate for the most popular player.
Agreement reached to lift Iran travel ban for Al Nassr
Al Nassr’s trip to Iran is a hugely significant one, with the Saudi government and the country’s soccer federation reaching an agreement to lift a ban placed on Saudi citizens from travelling to Iran, which has been in place for seven years. As a result, locals will see their team take on the likes of Ronaldo, Sadio Mané, Marcelo Brozovic and Aymeric Laporte on home soil rather than neutral ground.
Ronaldo receives Persian carpet on arrival at the airport
The Portuguese has, somewhat inevitably, been the main protagonist of his team’s visit. On his arrival at the airport in Tehran, he was presented with a traditional Persian carpet, one of Iran’s most famous products. Such carpets can be worth thousands of dollars and this one, with his name weaved into it, would presumably not come cheap if Ronaldo ever decided to sell it. The image of the former Real Madrid icon clutching his gift is yet another indication of his huge global appeal.
Request for unlimited internet access not granted to Cristiano
It has also been revealed that the Saudi Arabian government requested that Ronaldo and his Al Nassr teammates be granted permission to have unlimited and unobstructed internet access during their stay in Iran, which has strict regulations with regard to internet censorship.
Ezzatollah Zarghami, Iran’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism, stated that the request had been denied: “We will not give Cristiano Ronaldo unlimited internet access in Tehran. He must install national communication programs in Iran, such as Ita and Ballah, to communicate with his family and friends”.
Crowds cause Al Nassr training session to be cancelled
Ronaldo’s first few hours in Iran have been rather chaotic, with Al Nassr’s team bus pursued by large crowds every time it has moved. Young fans appear to be especially excited by seeing the Saudi club’s stars in the flesh, with the biggest cheers reserved for the ex-Manchester United attacker.
Upon the team’s arrival at their hotel, security guards struggled to keep fans in check, most of whom were dying to get close to the Portugal captain. As a result of the furore, Al Nassr’s Monday training session had to be cancelled, which may give a little helping hand to Persepolis when the sides face off at a sold-out Azadi Stadium on Tuesday.