The battle of Tehran

Persepolis players celebrate after scoring against Esteghlal in the Tehran derby
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The Tehran duel between Persepolis and Esteghlal may be one of multiple derbies in Iran, but it is the one that engrosses the country like no other. Known locally as the Surkhabi derby, it is regarded as one of the biggest in Asia.

Given the two teams’ stature, it should come as no surprise that many of Iran's finest all-time players have graced the fixture with their presence. This roll call of star names includes Hossein Kalani, the leading marksman at the 1972 AFC Asian Cup, as well as Ali Daei, Mehdi Mahdavikia and Ali Karimi, three Iranian winners of the AFC Asian Player of the Year award. The likes of former Persepolis icon Mehdi Hasheminasab and Esteghlal favourite Ali Vahedi Nikbakht, meanwhile, have both risked the wrath of their old faithful by later turning out for their clubs’ fierce rivals.

The originsFounded in 1945, Esteghlal were originally known as Docharkheh Savaran and were a multi-sports outfit with an emphasis on cycling. That was until the year 1949, when the club turned its focus solely on football and changed its name to Taj, going on to gain huge popularity with victory in a number of tournaments, including the 1970 edition of the AFC Asian Club Championship (now AFC Champions League).

Iranian local league winners three times and victors of six Iranian titles in the professional era, the last of these in 2008/09, the blue-shirted side have also claimed five Iranian Cups and added a second continental crown in 1991.

Persepolis, for their part, had to endure many years of struggle before establishing their current fan base, believed to be the largest in Iran. Founded in 1963, the club started life in the third division and failed to make much of a stir until they incorporated several talented players from Shahin after their dissolution in 1967. That helped kick-start their meteoric climb to the summit of Iranian football, a journey that has featured eight league title wins and attracted vast numbers of followers.

The first official meeting between the two took place on 5 April 1968 at the Shahid Shiroudi Stadium, ending in a 0-0 draw. Meanwhile, as is so often the case, the fact that Persepolis's red-shirted supporters traditionally come from the country’s working classes, in direct contrast to those of Esteghlal, only serves to heighten the pair’s intense rivalry.

Facts and FiguresOver the next 41 years since that first encounter, the pair have met on another 66 occasions. Esteghlal currently have the edge with 20 wins to their arch-rivals’ 16, with a further 30 draws underlining just how tight and tense these games invariably are. Indeed, the last six meeting have all ended 1-1, with the last outright victory a 2-1 Persepolis success in 2006.

Persepolis’s tally remains hindered by their sluggish start, having lost three of the first four meetings and failed to claim victory until Surkhabi derby number eight. They have, however, scored more goals than their enemies, finding the net 66 times compared to Esteghlal’s 62.

As far as individual records are concerned, Ali Parvin has made 20 appearances as a player and 22 as coach for Persepolis, closely followed by the 18 derbies played by Afshin Peryovani. On the other side of the divide, Karo Haghverdian and Ali Jabari have both played 17 derbies in the blue of Esteghlal.

Sifar Iranpak is Persepolis’s top derby scorer with seven, just one ahead of Hossein Kalani, while Jabari, Gholam Hussein and Hasheminasab have all notched five goals for Esteghlal in Surkhabi action.

Tales of derbies pastEsteghlal may be leading in terms of derbies won, but it is their rivals who have enjoyed the most emphatic victories. On 15 November 1972, Persepolis achieved their first Tehran derby win by a convincing 4-1 scoreline, following this up less than a year later with a record 6-0 success, which remains the highest-scoring meeting between the two sides.

They have also endured leaner times, however, including a run of nine derbies without victory between 1990 and 1996. Yet this was followed by a similar barren period for Esteghlal, which continued through until 2001.

Perhaps the most controversial meeting came back in December 2000, which followed Hasheminasab’s close-season switch from Persepolis to Esteghlal. Hasheminasab’s late strike for his new club was cancelled out by a spectacular last-gasp effort from future Bayern Munich man Karimi in a 2-2 draw.

The rivalry todayGoing into derby number 68, the two sides are level on points in third place in the league, though Esteghlal have a superior goal difference. Victory for either team will bring them closer to leaders Sepahan, though the pacesetters do currently enjoy a healthy 12-point cushion.

Appointed as coach in December, Persepolis idol and legendary Iran striker Daei will be keen to extend his winning run to three games, having presided over recent victories over Rah-Ahan and Peykan. His opposite number Abd Al Samad Mervawi, for his part, will be determined to lead his team back to winning ways after consecutive draws. Spearheading the Esteghlal bid should be Arash Borhani, whose ten-goal haul has him in fourth place on the divisional scoring chart.

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