West News Wire: After seven years of playing in neutral grounds, Saudi Arabia and Iran have achieved a “groundbreaking” agreement to resume home-and-away football matches between club sides, according to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). 

The two nations’ football federations said in a statement on Monday that the move would help “foster closer ties between their respective footballing communities, allowing clubs to host matches on their home turf and visiting the respective away stadiums, creating a more engaging and exciting experience for the fans and players alike.” 

Clubs from the Saudi Pro League will go to Iran to compete in Asian Champions League matches. 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr will kick off their Asian Champions League campaign in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on September 19 against Persepolis while Al Hilal and Al Ittihad will also travel to Iran during the group phase. 

Matches had been played on neutral territory since 2016 because strained diplomatic ties between the two countries meant Saudi nationals were not permitted to travel to Iran. 

The AFC said it “welcomes the historic move” as it reflects the commitment of Saudi Arabia and Iran “towards fostering closer ties between their respective footballing communities”. 

In addition to Al Nassr’s trip to Tehran later this month in Group E, Al Hilal, who just acquired Brazilian winger Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain, are slated to visit Tehran on October 3 to play Nassaji Mazandaran in Group D. 

Karim Benzema, a former Real Madrid striker, is a member of the Saudi champions Al Ittihad. The two teams were paired in Group C, with their match scheduled for October 2 in Isfahan. 

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In 2016, relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran were severed as a result of attacks on Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran during demonstrations against Riyadh’s murder of Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr. 

The AFC then decided that football matches between the two countries would take place on neutral ground, an arrangement it described at the time as “most unfortunate”. 

In March, a China-brokered deal saw the longtime rivals agree to restore diplomatic relations and reopen their respective embassies. 


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