TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Hundreds of soccer fans flocked to Cristiano Ronaldo’s hotel after he arrives in Tehran on Monday with his Saudi teammates ahead of a game, hoping for a glimpse of the star player.
Chanting “Ronaldo, Ronaldo,” the fans pushed past police, filling the corridors and public spaces of the Espians Palace Hotel.
Ronaldo arrived on his first visit to Iran with the Saudi football club Al Nassr, which is set to play Iran’s Persepolis in Tehran on September 19. The return game will be played in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on November 27.
Ronaldo was the first of several big-name players to accept lavish contracts to play for Saudi teams. The oil-rich kingdom is spending billions of dollars to try to transform itself into a sports and entertainment powerhouse.
The Asian Champions League games are made possible by the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia following an agreement brokered by China earlier this year. The longtime rivals had severed ties in 2016 after an angry crowd stormed Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran to protest Saudi Arabia’s execution of a popular Shiite cleric.
The 2015 Asian Champions League edition was the last time Saudi and Iranian teams faced each other on home turf in the group stage or knockout rounds.