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 By John Duerden

Asian success is what sets Iran's Esteghlal apart from the rest

Esteghlal FC are one of the biggest clubs in Iranian football.

Esteghlal, formerly known as Taj, remain top of the Persian Gulf Pro League after a 1-1 draw with Persepolis last weekend.

The Blues have eight domestic titles and two continental crowns to their name, making them one of Asia's biggest clubs. Seen as part of the establishment, in contrast to the more populist Persepolis, their biggest rivals, Esteghlal have plenty of history. ESPN FC counts down their top five moments.

5. Sending the first Iranian to play in Europe

We all know legends such as Park Ji-sung, Hidetoshi Nakata and Ali Daei who went to Europe in a blaze of publicity and were an absolute credit to Asian football.

Yet Biok Jeddinar was playing on the continent years before any of them were even born. The left-sided forward left in 1957 to play for Berlin club BFC Viktoria 1889.

It didn't last long -- just nine games in fact -- and there were no goals. Yet Jeddinar was a trailblazer, not just for Iran, but for the whole of Asia.

He should be better known than he is.

4. Winning the Tehran Derby in 2005

The 58th edition of this most massive of matches will live long in the memory, even if fans of Persepolis still do their utmost to forget.

Both teams were going for the title, though neither were to get it. Persepolis were in third while Esteghlal had gone on a 10-game unbeaten run, and they also had Reza Enayati in the form of his life. The big centre-forward had scored seven goals in the previous five games.

Sure enough, he put his side ahead midway through the second half only for Persepolis to grab two goals in quick succession. The Red half of the Azadi Stadium was rocking, the other starting to empty when Mahmoud Fekri equalised with just a few minutes left.

Deep in injury time, Pirouz Ghorbani headed home the famous winner.

Persepolis are the traditional archrivals of Esteghlal in the Persian Gulf Pro League.

3. A Blue scoring Iran's first-ever World Cup goal

Iraj Danayfar wasn't the first Iranian player to find the net at a World Cup, but he was the first to score against the opposition.

Against Scotland in the second game of a tough group -- the first-ever appearance on the global stage ended four days previously with a 3-0 defeat at the hands of a talented Netherlands team -- Andranik Eskandarian put the ball in his own net to give the talented men in blue the lead and, most thought, the points.

Yet, with 30 minutes left in Cordoba, Danayfar made history. In possession on the left side of the penalty area, he skipped past Archie Gemmell once and then when the Scot recovered, simply pushed his way through and fired a low shot into the net from a tight angle.

It ended 1-1. It also ended the dreams of Scotland, a team full of stars.

2. Winning the 2009 league title on the last day

Brazilian midfielder Januario didn't have the most remarkable career, but for one season with the Blues, he found a different level. And he saved his best until the last day of the season.

Esteghlal started three points behind leaders Zob Ahan. The math was simple, and only one formula worked for Amir Ghalenoei's men: a win for the team in second and a loss for the team on top.

Esteghlal had a tricky trip to Payam Mashad, who had been struggling all season but needed points to avoid relegation. Plenty at stake for both clubs then, and it was reflected in the fact that 50,000 packed into the stadium with a good percentage from Tehran.

As half-time approached, Esteghlal fans knew that Zobahan were a goal down and their attacks grew increasingly desperate. But just before the break, Januario collected a clearance just outside the area, chested the ball down and lifted a shot into the top corner. Thousands of away fans went mad and that was the only goal of the game.

There were nerves as Zobahan equalised with 18 minutes to go, but a late flurry from Foolad earned the hosts the three points and confirmed the title was going back to the blue half of the capital.

Esteghlal are one of the most well-supported clubs in Iran.

1. Becoming Asian club champions in 1991

Asian glory is the core of Esteghlal's identity. That's partly for its own sake but also because it is something that bitter rivals Persepolis can't compete with.

The first success came in 1967 when the continent didn't really know it had a club championship. It was different over two decades later when the Blues climbed the summit once again.

Esteghlal went through the tournament unbeaten, earning a showdown with Liaoning of China in the final. Reza Hassanzadeh headed home a free kick after 20 minutes only for Xu Hui to equalise early in the second half.

With time running out, Samad Marfavi grabbed the winner. It not only gave the Blues a second title, it enabled the fans to really rub their continental success into the envious noses of Persepolis.

One former coach said, "It meant that we could say to them that they were nothing while we were champions of Asia, not just once but twice."

Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.

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