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IR Iran's last Asian champions: The story of Mohsen Garousi and the PAS Tehran team of 1993

Tehran: They say records are made to be broken, but sometimes doing so never gets any easier with time.

As we count down to the 2020 AFC Champions League final between FC Persepolis and Ulsan Hyundai FC, looks back on the achievements of PAS Tehran, the last Iranian club to be crowned Asian champions.

Thanks to Mohsen Garousi's match-winning goal, PAS won the 1992-93 Asian Club Championship against Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia. Now, 27 years on and on the eve of another momentous occasion for Iranian football, Garousi relives his experience.

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It is one of Asian football’s most curious statistics.

In the last quarter of a century, Islamic Republic of Iran has qualified for four senior FIFA World Cups, produced four AFC Players of the Year and reached four finals of either the AFC Champions League, or its precursor, the Asian Club Championship.

But despite a national obsession with the game, an ability to continuously develop outstanding players and regular appearances in the major finals, no Iranian club has claimed the title of kings of Asia since the now defunct PAS Tehran.

PAS earned their slice of history 27 years ago, and as Persepolis prepare for their second AFC Champions League final appearance in three years, there are thousands of Iranian fans hoping the nation’s Asian club title drought doesn’t reach 28.

The lone goal scorer when PAS defeated Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab 1-0 in the 1992-93 decider in Manama, Bahrain, Garousi believes his achievement grows in meaning every year the drought continues.

“I scored a lot of goals during my career, but I enjoy this goal now,” he told from Tehran, where he now owns and operates a football merchandise shop.

“I was young then and I didn’t know the value of this goal, but now, after 27 years, I feel that this goal is valuable, because no Iranian team has succeeded in winning the Asian title since.”

IR Iran's last Asian champions - The story of Mohsen Garousi

They may have been one of the finest Iranian teams of the era, but PAS were no continental heavyweight.

They qualified for the Asian Club Championship as domestic title winners under head coach Firooz Karimi, but little was expected of them going into the tournament, and those measured expectations appeared well-founded when they lost their opening qualifying match 3-2 to Al Arabi of Qatar.

They won the second leg 2-0 to qualify for the main, centralised tournament in Bahrain, but their prospects didn’t look much better there, particularly when they lost 1-0 to Al Wasl, and then were held 1-1 by Wohaib FC, an unheralded Pakistani club who had been thrashed 10-1 by Al Wasl in their previous match.

“Nobody in Iran thought that we could become Asian champions,” recalled Garousi. “In fact, they did not expect it at all because most Iranian teams in Asia usually did not get good results.

“Of course, we came to the tournament to win the title but the problem we had was our lack of players. If you go back and check, you will see we didn’t have Akbar Yousefi due to suspension and Ali Asghar Modir Rosta due to injury in our first game.

“In the second game, the head coach did not use these two players, despite having them available. These were players who had always been the two main players of our team.”

PAS’s presence in a three-team group, coupled with Wohaib’s lopsided goal difference, meant the Iranian side went through to the semi-finals as group runners-up, but their campaign looked almost certain to come to an end when they were paired with Yomiuri FC – later Tokyo Verdy – the powerful Japanese champions, who had gone unbeaten in their first five games of the tournament.

But, with Yousefi and Modir Rosta back in the side, PAS rose to the occasion, earning a dramatic 2-1 victory after extra time to stun Yomiuri and secure their place in the final.

“it is true that we struggled in our group and advanced with difficulty,” recalled Garousi. “But in the next stage those two players were ready and they played in the match against Japanese team.

“If you see the press conference of the Japanese coach, he said before the game that they were already thinking about the final, as if they had won, but after the game, he said 'I meant the PAS team that played against the team from Pakistan, not this PAS!'

“In that game, we proved the power of Iranian football and the PAS team.”

The best was still yet to come for PAS, and especially Garousi, who scored his career-defining goal six minutes before half-time in the final against Al Shabab, cleverly flicking a low, near-post cross into the net with the inside of his boot.

It is an achievement which becomes more meaningful by the year.

“I have many memories of that game,” said Garousi, who had turned 24-years-old two months before the final.

“That championship was very enjoyable for us because many players left the club that season, but, with the efforts of the players and the tactics of our head coach Firooz Karimi, we were able to defeat the East and West Asian teams and become the Asian champions.”

With their place in Asian football history secure, PAS went on to lose 2-0 on aggregate against Africa’s best club, Wydad Casablanca of Morocco, in the 1992-93 Afro-Asian Club Championship – “They rightfully won the game, and I must say we didn’t really have experience playing at that level,” notes Garousi – but never again would they reach such dizzy heights.

Garousi would go on to represent his country 32 times in international football before his retirement, but while PAS would appear in one last AFC Champions League quarter-final in 2005, the club would cease to exist two years later.

More than a decade on, and nearly three decades since the likes of Karimi, Yousefi and Garousi led PAS to their victory in Manama, Iranian football still waiting to toast another Asian champion, but as one of the last men to become one, Garousi looks at the situation positively.

“I don’t wonder why Iranian teams did not become champions. I wonder how we reached the final,” he said. “I am happy that we have reached the final.”

While PAS are a product of a bygone era, the time is now for Persepolis, who will have one of Asia’s passionate football countries on edge as they try to end Iran’s Asian title drought on Saturday.

Should they succeed, spare a thought for Mohsen Garousi, the man who returned to Tehran in 1993 as the country’s latest matchwinner in an Asian final and, 27 years later, bears the same label.

Photos: PhotoArayn, AFC, AFP

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