Iranian club Sepahan penalized over canceled ACL match after Saudi team’s walkout

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian soccer team Sepahan was penalized with a 3-0 loss and a fine over a canceled Asian Champions League match against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad, Iranian media reported.

The match was called off last month when the Saudi team — featuring former Premier League stars such as N’Golo Kante and Fabinho — walked out at the last minute, apparently over the presence of a statue of a slain Iranian general on the sidelines.

Iran’s foreign ministry had earlier said that an agreement had been reached to replay the match, amid concerns that the incident could further strain a recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, longtime rivals who have backed opposite sides in conflicts across the Middle East.

But Iranian media reported that the Asian Football Confederation ruled that Al Ittihad should be awarded a 3-0 win and that Sepahan should pay a fine of $200,000. According to the reports, Sepahan was also banned from hosting its next three Asian Champions League matches at home.

The AFC did not issue a public statement about the decision, and still listed the game result as “canceled” on its website Thursday.

Al Ittihad was set to play Sepahan on Oct. 2 but did not come out onto the field in Isfahan, where some 60,000 fans were in attendance. Saudi Arabia’s state-run Al Ekhbariya TV said they refused to come out because of a statue of the late Gen. Qassem Soleimani placed outside the entrance tunnel.

Soleimani, who commanded the elite Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, is seen as a war hero by Iran’s clerical rulers and their supporters but vilified by Western and many Arab nations because of his role in leading Iran’s military activities across the region. He was killed in a U.S. drone strike in neighboring Iraq in 2020.

Iranian media reported Thursday that Sepahan said in a statement that it will file an official complaint with the AFC.

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