Cristiano Ronaldo, on his maiden visit to Iran, arrived with his Saudi Arabian teammates from the football club Al Nassr. The purpose of their visit is to prepare for an upcoming match in the AFC Champions League against Iran’s Persepolis, scheduled to be held in Tehran on September 19. The return fixture is set to take place in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on November 27.
Saudi Arabian Al Nassr Cristiano Ronaldo, second left, walks through Imam Khomeini airport, Iran. (AP Photo)
Notably, Ronaldo is among a cadre of renowned players who have accepted lucrative contracts to join Saudi teams. The oil-rich nation is investing substantial sums to rebrand itself as a sports and entertainment hub.
The staging of the Asian Champions League games became possible due to the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, facilitated by a diplomatic agreement brokered by China earlier this year. This reconciliation followed the severance of ties between the two countries in 2016 when an agitated crowd stormed Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran to protest against the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric by Saudi Arabia.
The 2015 edition of the Asian Champions League was the last instance where Saudi and Iranian teams confronted each other on their respective home turfs during the group stage or knockout rounds.
(With AP inputs)