Tehran: A burgeoning continental competition, a full stadium in Tehran, and an era-defining victory for Iranian football - The events of April 10, 1970, and Taj Tehran’s Asian Club Championship Final win over Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv, remain burned in the memories of those who participated.
In only the third staging of the continental tournament, Taj - known as FC Esteghlal from 1979 - became the first Iranian winners, and the first club from outside Israel to lift trophy, winning 2-1 after extra-time in front of an estimated 35,000 fans at the original Amjadieh Stadium.
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Half a century after a momentous occasion in both Iranian and Asian club football history, the-AFC.com enlisted two key figures in Taj’s win to share their memories.
Scorer of the winning goal, Masoud Moeini, 71, and Ali Jabbari, 73, Taj’s outstanding team captain, look back on a match from a lifetime ago, which ensured a permanent legacy for 12 players, and Yugoslavian head coach Zdravko Rajkov.
A stage like no other
Hapoel became inaugural winners of the competition with their win over Malaysia’s Selangor in 1967, before Tel Aviv rivals Maccabi won the second edition two years later, while Taj were competing for the first time in 1970, as Tehran played host to six other clubs from around the continent in a centralised tournament held over 10 days.
Taj beat clubs from Lebanon, Malaysia and Indonesia without conceding a goal to qualify for the final, while Hapoel racked up 11 goals in three matches against Thai, Indian and Indonesian opponents to join them.
Ali Jabbari: “50 years ago, the Asian Club Championship Final was held at the Amjadieh Stadium in Tehran, with the participation of seven teams including Hapoel from Israel.”
Masoud Moeini: “Despite the half a century that has passed since the Asian final, the dream is still in the minds of lots of fans, and they will never forget that final night.
“We were stressed on the morning of the final match. (Coach) Rajkov preferred light training, and that light training helped reduce the players’ stress."
“The final match was really hard, and the fans expected us to beat Hapoel. The final match was in Tehran and we had home advantage.
“The old Amjadieh Stadium was full of fans. The fans came to the stadium so early to watch the final match. The Taj players were encouraged by the fans’ support.”
Jabbari: “At the time, all football fans across the country, were following the match with high enthusiasm. Lots of and lots of fans came to the stadium, and lots of them were beside us on the field.”
“The capacity of the stadium was totally full. People who couldn’t come to the stadium followed that match on Radio and TV.”
A hard-fought encounter
Jabbari: “The game at full-time ended at 1-1. The final result at the end of 90 minutes was a draw.”
Moeini: “Rajkov warned the necessary points and the tasks of every player in the locker room. We went onto the field calmly.
The match was balanced and, in the first half, both teams played cautiously. The first half ended without a goal. In the second half, both teams attacked but Hapoel scored from a quick team tactic. There were 20 minutes left until the end of the match and Rajkov took a big risk."
Rajkov preferred to send Mehdi Haj Mohammad, who was a technical player, on the field. Until this match, he had played on the left wing, in fact, with this change, we became an attacking team.
Of course, the head coach had no choice, because we had to score, and we wanted to win the match. Our attacks intensified from the left wing,
In an instant Haj Mohammad passed Hapoel’s defender, he crossed the ball and Vafakhah scored our first goal with his head.”
Moeni: “The final was a difficult day for me, because the best player of Hapoel, at right wing, played against me. The defenders of the left and right wingers didn’t take part in the attacks at that time.
“The match finished 1-1 at full time. We had a strange time before extra-time started. We were thinking on the track at the stadium, which was in front of the fans. We sat and grumbled to Rajkov’s words. There was a strange silence in the stadium.
“At the beginning of the second half of extra-time, we were on the north side of the stadium. The late Mansour Pourheidari crossed the ball from the right side of the field, and I got the ball back. I had dared to go ahead."
“I moved the ball to my left foot with my chest, then I shot toward the Hapoel net.
“At first, I didn’t know myself if my shot had gone in or out of the net, but when I watched the referee’s reaction and when I saw that Gholam Hossein Mazloumi and Vafakhah were happy, then I realised that I had scored.
“The players came up to me, lifted me off the ground and hugged me. Our team’s morale went up, our situation had improved.
“Of course, the atmosphere in that image was selected as the magazine’s ‘Picture of the Week’. The day after the championship, when I entered university, I saw a picture of myself in a sports magazine. Under the picture it said: ‘Holy Tears’.”
A win celebrated by ‘all Iranian people’
Jabbari: “After we scored the second goal against Hapoel and won the match to become Asian champions, all Iranian people celebrated because of that championship, and they were very happy all around the country.
“That night, the people of Tehran, and even all people of Iran, didn’t sleep until morning. They celebrated all night.
“They continued their happiness and celebration for a few more days.”
Moeini: “The professors and students welcomed me well, but the happiness of the people and their celebration was more important than my goal. They ran behind the team bus up to our hotel.
“They were happy, and I think people will never forget that night, and it will define generation after generation. One of the stars on the club shirt belongs to that championship in 1970. The second star was obtained by the late Mr. Pourheidari in later years. (editor’s note: Mansour Pourheidari coached Esteghlal to their second Asian title in 1991)
“The final match was great for us. After that championship we were able to show the power of Iranian football to the Asian continent., and we showed that we have strong football.
“Thank God for that – the greatest gift for me. I was young, but I was able to do great things and to make the fans happy.”
Jabbari: “I give my warmest regards to Taj fans, and congratulations to all Taj fans for the 50th anniversary of our championship in Asia.
On this anniversary, I congratulate the Taj fans, and send my best wishes for them.
Moeini: “I would like to mention the deceased Zdravko Rajkov.
“Also, I would like to mention the late Nasser Hejazi, Mansour Pourheidari, the late Gholam Hossein Mazloumi, the late Ezat Janmaleki; those who played an important role in Taj's championship in Asia.
“I hope that championship will be repeated by Iranian clubs, although it is difficult to achieve this goal.”
Having been entered into the 1970 tournament as champions of Tehran, Rajkov’s all-conquering Taj side won the first Iranian national title with the same group of players in the 1970-71 season, before a semi-final defeat to Al Shorta of Iraq saw them finish third in the 1971 Asian Club Championship in Bangkok.
Taj became FC Esteghlal in 1979 and beat Chinese club Liaoning FC to become Asian champions for a second time in 1991, with 1970 hero Mansour Pourheidari (pictured below, right) this time at the helm as head coach.
PAS Tehran, the 1993 champions, are the only other Iranian club to have won the Asian club title, with Esteghlal, Zobahan, Sepahan and Persepolis all losing finals of either the Asian Club Championship, or the modern-day AFC Champions League.
Masoud Moeini continued his career with Taj alongside his brother, and fellow 1970 winner Fereydoun, and appeared for Tehran clubs Daraei and Ekbatan, before eventually coaching Esteghlal’s great rivals Persepolis in the late 80s.
Ali Jabbari (pictured above) went on to appear for the Iranian squad at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, shortly after scoring a remarkable eight-minute hat-trick to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win against Thailand at the 1972 AFC Asian Cup – a tournament where he and four other Taj players would become Asian champions once again.
In 2013, Jabbari received a Golden Star from the Asian Football Confederation in recognition of his lifetime contribution to Iranian football.
Photos, Videos: Amir Rafiee, Esteghlal FC
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