(IranSportsPress.com | the-afc)- Iran giants Esteghlal return to the continental stage following a three-year hiatus after overcoming Qatar’s Al Sadd on penalties in the Play-offs in the battle of the two-time Asian club champions. Esteghlal are Iran’s most successful side on the continent, having been crowned Asian champions in 1970 and 1991. However, their best performance since the inception of the AFC Champions League came in reaching the 2013 semi-finals before defeat to FC Seoul. A year later, in their last appearance in the tournament, the Tehran-based team failed to progress beyond the Group Stage.
Goalkeeper and captain Mehdi Rahmati is one of Iran’s most decorated players having won four league titles and two Hazfi Cups. Currently in his third spell with Esteghlal, Rahmati was part of the side that reached the 2013 semi-finals. The experienced Khosro Heydari, who returned for a second stint with Esteghlal from Sepahan in 2011 could also prove to be a key figure for the Iranian side. The 33-year-old has over 50 appearances for Iran to his name as well as two league titles with Esteghlal. Meanwhile, much is expected of striker Kaveh Rezaei who started the Play-Off encounter against Al Sadd, The promising 24-year-old joined Esteghlal last year and was on target during his club’s 3-2 defeat of Persepolis on Sunday.
Coach: Alireza Mansourian
Former Iran international Alireza Mansourian guided city rivals Naft Tehran to the 2015 AFC Champions League quarter-finals after spending four years as part of the national team set-up. Mansourian, who enjoyed spells in Germany and Greece as a player, also represented Iran at the 1998 FIFA World Cup and made more than 200 appearances for Esteghlal.
How They Qualified: Iran Pro League Third place (then via Play-offs)
Stadium: Azadi Stadium, Tehran (capacity 100,000)
Iran Pro League (8): 2013, 2009, 2006, 2001, 1998, 1990, 1975, 1971
Hazfi Cup (6): 2012, 2008, 2002, 2000, 1996, 1977
AFC Champions League: Semi-Finals 2013; Round of 16 2012, 2010; Group Stage 2014, 2011, 2009, 2003
Asian Club Championship (2): 1991, 1970; Runners-Up 1999, 1992