Tehran: Persepolis will be the team to beat in the Iran Pro League 2018-19 season which kicks off on Thursday.
Tehran-based Persepolis are the most successful club in the Islamic Republic of Iran, having won 11 league titles. The Red Army picked up the Iranian Super Cup last week after clinching their fourth Pro League title ahead of second placed Zobahan with Esteghlal and Saipa third and fourth respectively.
Branko Ivankovic's side will now be aiming to secure a hat-trick of league titles, a feat only achieved by Sepahan during their 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12 run.
"This is the third year already that we have been on top of the league which is hard to do because one of the hardest things is to achieve continuity, maintain this level of focus and concentration," Ivankovic said.
"The key to success is mainly hard work. There is no success without hard and persistent work.
The league champions open their title defence against Padideh at the Samen Stadium, while Zobahan travel to Nassaji Mazandaran and Esteghlal play Paykan at home on Friday.
In the AFC Champions League quarter-final first leg, Persepolis will face Qatar's Al Duhail on August 28 while Esteghlal take on another Qatari club Al Sadd on August 27.
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Meanwhile, the Football Federation of Islamic Republic of Iran awarded the best players of the 2017-18 season of the Iran Pro League on Monday in Tehran.
Persepolis won five of the 10 awards to set a record for the awards received. The club, who finished first last season with 64 points (nine points more than Zobahan), grabbed the best club award.
In the individual awards, Persepolis striker Ali Alipour won the Golden Boot, netting 19 goals.
Team Melli and Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand won the Golden Glove, having set a league record of going 721 minutes without conceding a goal last season, which was later broken by Esteghlal goalkeeper Hossein Hosseini who kept his goal shut for 872 consecutive minutes.
Persepolis veteran defender and a former Team Melli member Seyyed Jalal Hosseini won the best defender award at the age of 36.
As was expected, Persepolis' Croatian manager Branko Ivancovic received the best manager award after guiding the club to back-to-back titles.
Vahid Amiri, who recently left Persepolis for Turkish club Trabzonspor, won the Man of the Year Award for his key role in the club's success in 2017-18.
Esteghlal FC also had their share of awards with two players among the best.
Omid Ebrahimi won the best midfielder award. Server Djeparov of Uzbekistan won the best game maker award.
Ebrahimi played for Team Melli in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and has since moved to Qatari club Al Ahli.
Source: Islamic Republic News Agency