TEHRAN (Iran News) – The excitement will be at its peak in the last two rounds – starting Saturday – of the Persian Gulf Pro League as the race to seal the AFC Champions League (ACL) spots and avoid relegation is wide open.
With the title already clinched by Persepolis, five teams – Esteghlal, Tractor, Foolad Khuzestan, Sepahan and Shahr Khodro – are all in contention with a top-three finish and a place in the Asian elite club competition next year.
Should either one of the semifinalist’s Tractors or Esteghlal go on to win the Hazfi Cup (Iranian domestic cup competition) then the fourth team in the league table will also be handed an ACL berth?
In the other end of the table, bottom-side Shahin Shahrdari Bushehr, five points adrift of 14th-placed Paykan, seems to be all but relegated while six other sides – Zob Ahan, Golgohar Sirjan, Saipa, Mashinsazi Tabriz, Paykan, and Pars Jonoubi Jam – could still finish in the two relegation spots.
In one of the most decisive matches on Saturday, fifth-placed Sepahan and Shahr Khodro – separated by goal difference and two points behind third-placed Tractor and Foolad – will square off in Isfahan in a last-ditch effort to finish in the top three.
It will be the first outing for Sepahan under the caretaker manager Miguel Teixeira – who replaced Amir Qalenoei after the Iranian stepped down following last Monday’s cup exit at the hands of Esteghlal.
Elsewhere, Tractor will face Mashinsazi in the Tabriz derby, while Foolad plays away to Pars Jonoubi Jam – currently in the relegation zone.
Esteghlal could secure a runner-up finish with a home victory over Paykan – which is one point clear of the relegation – if both Tractor and Foolad fail to leave the pitch with three points.
In Sirjan, a resurgent Golgohar – which collected 10 points in last four matches to jump up to 11th in the table – will be facing Persepolis, knowing that a victory over a presumably-unmotivated champion will guarantee Majid Jalali’s men a place in next season’s competition – if Pars fails to beat Foolad.
Zob Ahan – edging Golgohar only with a single goal difference – will play at Nassaji Mazandaran, with 12th-placed Saipa – one point behind Zob Ahan and Golgohar – taking on Naft Masjed Soleyman at home.
Additionally, San’at Naft Abadan will host Shahin.
All fixtures will kick off at 8:45 p.m. local time (1615 GMT).
- source : Iran Daily, Irannews