Together with city rivals Persepolis, Tehran-based Esteghlal sit alongside the biggest and best supported clubs in Iran, with the pair generally considered the premier clubs in the Iranian top flight, known as the Iran Pro League.
Throughout the club's 64 years, Esteghlal have been one of the most consistent clubs not only in Iran but also across Asia, having repeatedly claimed domestic honours while twice winning the Asian crown. FIFA.com takes a closer look at a club with legendary status in the country.
Birth of an institutionThough the Esteghlal Cultural and Athletic Club, as it is now known by its full name, is renowned for its football team, it was originally formed by three cycling fans on 26 September, 1945. It is no surprise then that the club was known as Docharkheh Savaran which translates as ‘The Cyclists'. Despite the founders' inclination, the club quickly showed its footballing strengths winning the Tehran Hazfi Cup in 1947.
In 1949, the club first changed its name to Taj, which means ‘Crown', a name which proved apt for the outfit that quickly became a football powerhouse. The club have not looked back since then, dominating the local scene as well as taking the continental stage by storm. They again modified their name to the current Esteghlal meaning ‘independence' in 1979.
Making of a legend
Having emerged as one of the nation's most competent sides, the club would spent the 1950's and 1960's cementing their place within the country's top tier. Although there was not a national league during those days, they were rampant in the local competitions, including wining the Iran Local League in 1970, kicking-off a rivalry alongside Persepolis as two of the most popular clubs.
The 1970's marked a golden era for Esteghlal, with the club claiming their maiden continental title by outstripping Israeli Hapoel Tel Aviv 2-1 in the 1971 Asian Club Championship final. They would again reach the Asian final on three more occasions, winning in 1991 and finishing runners-up in both 1992 and 1999, establishing the club as one of the continent's most accomplished sides.
The launch of the first national league in 1972, known as the Takht Jamshid Cup, provided Esteghlal with a chance to further showcase their pedigree amid the Iranian elite. They claimed the domestic title in 1975 and 1990 while clinching their first Hafzi Cup in 1977. After the league was renamed as the Azadegan League in 1991, Esteghlal continued their impressive run, recapturing national laurels in 1999 and 2001.
Esteghlal have consistently provided the national team with an endless stream of talent, many of whom have featured heavily in Team Melli's three appearances in the FIFA World Cup™. Notable were Iraj Danaiyfar and Hassan Rowshan who bagged the nation's two goals in their debut on the world stage at Argentina 1978. The former broke Iran's FIFA World Cup duck by scoring in their 1-1 draw against Scotland while the latter grabbed a consolation in their 4-1 defeat to Peru.
Boasting some of the country's best talents, Esteghlal have maintained their tag as perennial favorites since the commencement of the professional national league in 2002. They twice finished runners-up in 2002 and 2004, and soon atoned for the near-misses by reigning supreme in 2006 under Amir Ghalenoei, who played with the club from 1989 to 1995. The past season saw the former forward take Esteghlal to yet another title before being replaced by the current coach Samad Marfavi.
The managerial switch was made in the wake of a disappointing showing in this year's AFC Champions League where Esteghlal received the wooden spoon in their group to bow out. Despite this setback, winning the most recent league title came as a timely boost for Esteghlal who will be hungry to mount another challenge for the continental showpiece in the season to come.
Constructed in 1971 with a capacity of 90,000, the Azadi Stadium is ranked among the world's legendary stadiums. Located in Tehran, it is the home stadium for Esteghlal and Persepolis as well as the Iranian national team.