Iranians give Ronaldo ecstatic welcome amid Mahsa Amini’s anniversary

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This handout picture provided by the media office of Iranian football club Persepolis Monday shows Al-Nassrs Cristiano Ronaldo arriving at Tehrans Imam Khomeini International Airport. — AFP
This handout picture provided by the media office of Iranian football club Persepolis Monday shows Al-Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo arriving at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. — AFP

Cristiano Ronaldo was enthusiastically welcomed by crowds of Iranian football supporters on Monday as his Saudi squad landed in Tehran for the first home-and-away club match in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death anniversary.

Fans chanted the name of the Portuguese five-time world player of the year as he arrived with his Al Nassr teammates to face Iran´s leading club Persepolis in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday.

The match will be the first since Tehran and Riyadh reached a China-brokered deal that was announced in March.

Teams from both countries had only played matches on neutral grounds since 2016 when Saudi Arabia and Iran severed ties, AFP reported.

In Tehran, excitement filled the air as fans eagerly waited to catch a glimpse of 38-year-old Ronaldo as he left Iran´s Imam Khomeini´s airport with his teammates.

“It was a very good feeling, and we all enjoyed it,” Al Nassr manager Luis Castro said in his press conference.

“We saw a series of scenes and many Iranian fans were even holding Al Nassr team shirts, which was a pleasant event for us.”

Large crowds of cheering fans lined the streets as Ronaldo arrived at a hotel in Tehran on board the team bus.

Others chanting “Ronaldo, Ronaldo!” even flooded into the hotel lobby.

Posters of the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus star with “Welcome”, written in Arabic, English and Farsi sprung up in the Iranian capital´s main streets.

Sadly for the fans, none will be allowed to attend the match which will be held at the gigantic Azadi stadium, which can host up to 90,000 people.

‘Unlimited internet’

Ronaldo and his teammates have been placed under the protection of an “elite unit”, specialised in securing presidential visits, according to sports website Varzesh 3.

The unit will be in charge of “preventing any contact between fans and players of the Saudi team,” it added.

Ronaldo´s arrival has also sparked a debate over Iran´s internet restrictions.

Iran has imposed strict curbs — including on WhatsApp and Instagram — since last year´s mass protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, had been arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic´s dress code for women.

Last week, Persepolis´s general manager Reza Darvish proposed that the Saudi team be given SIM cards with unfiltered internet access.

“I have talked to the CEO of Irancell (a local provider and sponsor to Persepolis) and asked for SIM cards for… players and those who accompany them with unlimited internet,” he said.

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