Iranians give Ronaldo rapturous welcome in Tehran

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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.

The Asian Football Confederation have ruled that the game be played behind closed doors as punishment for a controversial 2021 online post by Persepolis before a match against an Indian team.

Both managers have lamented the absence of the fans.

“An empty stadium does not give the taste of real football,” Castro said.

“We are sad that this great game is without spectators,” Golmohammadi said.

“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.

Ronaldo himself has more than 604 million Instagram followers.

The 2023-2024 Asian Champions League officially begins this week with the spotlight on Saudi Arabia which alongside Ronaldo has lured a host of stars including Karim Benzema, Neymar and Sadio Mane.

Persepolis are one of Iran and the region’s most successful clubs and reached the final of the Asian Champions League in 2018 and 2020, while Al Nassr won the tournament in 1995.

Other matches between the two countries will take place in the coming weeks. Saudi’s Al Ittihad are scheduled to play Iran’s Sepahan on October 2, and Saudi club Al Hilal will meet Iran’s Nassaji Mazandaran on October 3.

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