The city of Tehran experienced a festive uproar last week when football icon Cristiano Ronaldo and his team, Al-Nassr from Saudi Arabia, landed in the Iranian capital.
The visit, marking Ronaldo’s first to Iran, was for an AFC Champions League match against Persepolis FC, causing the city to buzz with excitement.
Thousands of fervent fans flooded the streets, eager to catch a glimpse of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. The atmosphere was electric, with fans chanting Ronaldo’s name and racing after his bus, hoping to see the superstar up close.
Ronaldo and his teammates received a warm welcome at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport by the renowned Iranian footballer and coach, Ali Daei. Daei’s record of 109 international goals was surpassed by Ronaldo in 2021. The city was adorned with large banners in Persian, English, and Arabic, welcoming Ronaldo and his teammates, a gesture usually reserved for foreign dignitaries.
The journey from the airport to the Espinas Hotel saw fans in Al-Nassr jerseys traveling from distant cities and provinces, some spending millions of rials for rooms at the luxury hotel where the team was staying, all in hopes of meeting Ronaldo. “I don’t earn much but was willing to book a room there just to meet my favorite footballer,” said Ahmed, a software engineer and football enthusiast.
Despite stringent security, some fans succeeded in entering the hotel lobby, while others climbed the surrounding hills. A few fortunate ones even met Ronaldo, including 5-year-old Adrian and 34-year-old artist Fatemeh Hammami, who is 85% paralyzed. Hammami, known for her foot-painted portraits of celebrities, including Ronaldo, had her dream come true when she met him and gifted him her paintings.
Diplomatic Ties and Controversies
This game between Al-Nassr and Persepolis occurred after the announcement of normalized diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, the match also sparked controversies, being played behind closed doors due to a penalty faced by the home team from the Asian Football Confederation. Reza Darvish, the head of Persepolis FC, also faced criticism for gifting Ronaldo two expensive Persian carpets, though he clarified they were not bought from the team’s finances.
Special Privileges and Acknowledgments
Ronaldo and his teammates were also provided with special SIM cards allowing unrestricted Internet access, leading to some Iranians demanding similar privileges. After Al-Nassr’s 2-0 victory, Ronaldo expressed his gratitude on social media for Iran’s hospitality, writing, “A very special thank you to the fans and to all the Iranian people who have made this visit so special for us.”
In conclusion, Ronaldo’s visit to Tehran was marked by jubilant celebrations, heartfelt meetings, and a few controversies, reflecting the superstar’s significant impact wherever he goes. The city’s overwhelming response to his visit showcased the universal appeal and love for the sport and its icons.