ISFAHAN: Al Ittihad’s Asian Champions League match with Iran’s Sepahan was called off on Monday after the Saudi team refused to leave the dressing room due to a statue of assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani being placed at the entrance to the pitch.

The game was postponed by officials at the Naghsh-i Jahan Stadium in Isfahan, where around 60,000 fans had turned out to see Sepahan take on an Al Ittihad starting line-up that was due to include former Premier League stars Ngolo Kante and Fabinho.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said the game had been “cancelled due to unanticipated and unforeseen circumstances”. “The AFC reiterates its commitment towards ensuring the safety and security of the players, match officials, spectators, and all stakeholders involved,” the body said in a statement.

Qasem Soleimani, a prominent general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutio­nary Guard Corps, was killed near Baghdad airport in a United States drone strike in Jan 2020 and is viewed as a martyr by Iran’s government.

Photographs from the stadium published on social media showed a bust of Soleimani had been placed at the entrance to the pitch and would have been in full view of the players as they exited the tunnel.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2023

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