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ACL Legends: IR Iran

Kuala Lumpur: In a new series of profiles, we look at some of the icons of the AFC Champions League era, kicking off with five from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

While an Iranian side has yet to win the competition, they have come close on several occasions, and there have been a number of star performers who have shone brightly on the Continental club scene.

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Jalal Hosseini

AFC Champions League Appearances: 58

A legend of Iranian football with well over 100 caps for his country, Jalal Hosseini first appeared in the AFC Champions League when he reached the quarter-finals with debutants Saipa in 2008 before he also reached the last eight with both Sepahan and Naft Tehran.

It is, however, in more recent times as captain of Persepolis that Hosseini has had his biggest impact, captaining the Tehran giants to a first-ever semi-final appearance in 2017 and then going one better a year later.

In a campaign noted for drama at Azadi Stadium, Hosseini scored a last-minute winner against the UAE's Al Jazira in the Round of 16 before his goal began a remarkable comeback in a quarter-final win over Qatar's Al Duhail.

Persepolis then edged past Al Sadd in the semi-finals, allowing Hosseini to lead his side out in the final. Unfortunately for the now 38-year-old, Kashima Antlers' 2-0 win prevented them from becoming Iran's first-ever AFC Champions League winners.

Mehdi Rahmati

AFC Champions League Appearances: 61

No Iranian player boasts more appearances in Asia's biggest club competition than goalkeeper Mehdi Rahmati, the veteran custodian who first turned out for Sepahan in the 2010 group stage.

Having joined Esteghlal in mid-2011, Rahmati helped the Tehran side to the knockout rounds a year later then achieved his best finish to date when they reached the semi-finals in 2013 before exiting at the hands of FC Seoul.

Further knockout round appearances came in 2017 and 2018 during a third spell with Esteghlal, before the former Iran international left the Azadi Stadium club to join Shahr Khodro in mid-2019.

Earlier this year, the now 37-year-old proved he'd lost none of his shot-stopping ability, denying compatriot Karim Ansarifard in a penalty shootout as Shahr Khodro overcame Qatar's Al Sailiya to advance to the competition for the first time.

Farhad Majidi

AFC Champions League Appearances: 30

While no Iranian club side have got their hands on the AFC Champions League trophy, one man who has lifted the prestigious prize is Farhad Majidi, who did so at the first time of asking.

After joining Emirati side Al AIn ahead of the semi-finals, the forward went on to play a significant role, with his late goal away at China PR's Dalian Shide proving decisive in a 7-6 aggregate win.

Majidi started both legs of the final against Thailand's BEC Tero Sasana as Al Ain prevailed 2-1 on aggregate to become the first AFC Champions League winners and, to date, the only Emirati side to achieve the feat.

Ten years later, Majidi was captain of the Esteghlal side that reached the 2013 semi-finals in what was his last season as a professional. He took over the Esteghlal reins in early 2020 and returned to the competition for the first time as a head coach.

Ghasem Haddadifar

Appearances: 38

Having spent almost his entire career at Zobahan, talented midfielder Ghasem Haddadifar is a legend among the green half of Isfahan, who he first appeared for in the 2010 AFC Champions League.

Captaining his hometown club, Haddadifar enjoyed a superb campaign, scoring in a semi-final victory over Saudi giants Al Hilal as Zobahan became only the second side from Iran to reach the final.

Zobahan fell just short after losing to Korea Republic's Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in the showpiece event before Haddadifar and co. returned to reach the quarter-finals a year later.

Since 2016, Haddadifar has skippered his team to a further three knockout round appearances, scoring some excellent goals along the way. Now in the twilight of his career at 36, he has made more than 300 appearances for his club.

Ehsan Hajsafi

AFC Champions League Appearances: 42

An unused substitute in Sepahan's first four games of the 2007 AFC Champions League, 17-year-old Ehsan Hajsafi made his competition debut in the Isfahan team's 5-0 victory against Syria's Al Ittihad in Aleppo.

The teenager started every game thereafter as Sepahan became the first Iranian side to reach the final, before they were defeated 3-1 on aggregate by Urawa Red Diamonds.

The Iranian international was part of the Sepahan sides that reached the quarter-finals in 2011 and 2012, although the team was unable to repeat the feat of 2007 and later suffered group stage eliminations in 2013 and 2014.

Stints in Germany and Greece followed but Hajsafi is now back in his homeland with Tractorsazi Tabriz and, at only 30 years old, he will hope to return to AFC Champions League action in 2021.

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