Great Grounds of Asia: Central & South
Kuala Lumpur: The Central and South zones are home to some of the most spectacular stadiums in Asia, where they have frequently welcomed the world.
As we come to the final part of our Great Grounds of Asia series, the-AFC.com brings you our top picks from the Central and South zones. Don't forget to choose your favourites down below.
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Azadi Stadium (Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran)
Built as the centre-piece of the hosting of the 1974 Asian Games, Azadi Stadium in Tehran is the home venue for the Islamic Republic of Iran national team as well as domestic heavyweights Persepolis and Esteghlal.
The bowl-shaped structure, which helps create a vibrant and often intimidating atmosphere, sits within the Azadi Sports Complex, which also contains an aquatics centre and several other sporting venues.
Opened in 1971, the record attendance was set in September 1997 as a crowd of 120,000 attended the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifier between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
In April 2015, the meeting between Persepolis and Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr attracted an AFC Champions League record crowd of 100,000 – beating the previous best set at the same venue as Persepolis entertained Qatar’s Al Gharafa three years earlier.
The stadium also matched those numbers in the two subsequent ties hosted by Persepolis against Uzbek side Bunyodkor and Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia.
The Azadi Stadium has also hosted some of Asian football’s most prestigious matches, including the final of the 1976 AFC Asian Cup, when Ali Parvin scored the only goal of the game to give the home team victory over Kuwait. And in 1999 and 2002, the stadium played host to the final of the Asian Club Championship.
The stadium hosted its first AFC Champions League final in 2018, when Persepolis played Kashima Antlers in the second leg before a packed stadium. The match ended 0-0, with Kashima securing the title with a 2-0 aggregate win.
Pakhtakor Stadium (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)
Pakhtakor Stadium is located in the heart of Tashkent on the edge of a picturesque park, with its distinctive blue and yellow seats – the colours of home side Pakhtakor.
Renovations in 2008 upgraded all the seats from wood to plastic, while new changing rooms and a VIP area were added along with a new giant screen.
While the venue is also used by the Uzbekistan national team as well as other Uzbek League sides, the ground notably rose to Continental club tournament prominence on April 9, 2013.
After just seven seconds following the kick-off of the group stage tie between Pakhtakor and Lekhwiya, the visitors’ striker Sebastian Soria ensured the stadium’s place in the record books as he scored the fastest goal in AFC Champions League history.
After the residents of Tashkent helped build the stadium in 1956, Pakhtakor played their first match at their 56,000-capacity new home on August 20.
The club continued to use the venue throughout their 22 seasons in the Soviet League and into the current Uzbek League.
Pakhtakor Stadium, which now has a capacity of 35,000, hosted the Finals of the AFC U-16 Championship in 2008 and 2010 as well as the 2014 FIFA World Cup play-off between Uzbekistan and Jordan.
Salt Lake Stadium (Kolkata, India)
The multi-purpose Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata is the largest in India and at one point, before its renovation in 2011, was the second largest in the world with an official capacity of 120,000.
Covering an area of 76.40 acres (309,200 m2), the stadium is primarily used for football and is the home of the national team, I-League clubs Mohammedan SC, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, and, since 2014, India Super League side ATK FC.
One of the most regular and colourful fixtures which takes place at the stadium is the Kolkata derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.
Built in 1984 and inaugurated with the now defunct Nehru Cup, the venue hosted the multi-sport South Asian Games three years later and Mohammed Fareed scored an 89th-minute winner as India edged out Nepal 1-0 in front of a crowd of 80,000 to win the gold medal in the football competition.
Yuba Bharati Krirangan, as it is known in Bengali, hosted a farewell match for former Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn in May 2008 before being renovated in 2011 ahead of an international friendly between Argentina and Venezuela.
In 2013, East Bengal welcomed Al Qadsia for the second leg of the AFC Cup semi-finals, where 50,000 fans came out in full support. East Bengal, who had lost the first leg 4-2, fell to a 3-0 defeat.
The stadium also hosted the final and third place play-off match in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup as well as a quarter-final, Round of 16 fixture and group stage ties.
Bangabandhu National Stadium (Dhaka, Bangladesh)
Originally built for cricket in 1954, Bangabandhu National Stadium has transformed over the years into one of the most important venues in Bangladesh.
It had multiple renovations and re-developments but was fully revamped for the opening of the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
Still one of the largest stadiums in the nation with a 36,000 capacity, it is home to the Bangladesh national team, who have earned success in front of their home fans.
The arena welcomed their South Asian rivals for the SAFF Championship in 2003, 2009 and most recently 2018. But the 2003 edition will have to be the most memorable campaign.
After a flawless group stage campaign, Bangladesh overcame India in the semi-finals, before hoisting the Championship trophy at home when they beat Maldives 5-4 on penalties after the match ended 1-1 in extra time.
Abahani Limited Dhaka and Mohammedan Sporting Club share the stadium as their home ground as well, and the stadium has played a major part in club Continental action.
It was the venue for the 1990-91 Asian Club Championship final, where Esteghlal secured their second title after beating China PR's Liaoning FC.
Central Republican Stadium (Dushanbe, Tajikistan)
Located in the heart of the Tajikistan capital, the multipurpose Central Republican Stadium is used primarily by FC Istiklol in the Tajik League and the Tajikistan national team.
Fans consistently fill the 20,000 capacity stadium, which played a major factor in Istiklol's record eighth Tajik League title in 2019.
Istiklol's success domestically has also earned the club regular qualification to the AFC Cup and the preliminary stages of the AFC Champions League.
The Dushanbe-based club earned their first Continental trophy back in 2012 when they beat Palestine's Markazz Shabab Al Am'ari 2-1 in the AFC President's Cup final.
Istiklol were dominant in the AFC Cup three years later, reaching the final for the first time after two short campaigns in the previous editions. It was, however, not meant to be as Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim emerged champions with a 1-0 win.
Got a favourite stadium in mind? Pick your top two in this week's selection below! (Poll ends at 1700 (UTC 8) on May 28).
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