After days of defiant statements, Iranian officials have relented to a decision by the Asian Football Federation to send their teams to “neutral” counties for championship games, following the downing of a Ukrainian airliner earlier this month.
Leaving aside their initial threat to boycott the Asian Champions League, Iranians backed down yesterday and declared that they had reached a "victorious" compromise with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Iranian media reported on January 18 that AFC sent a letter to Iranian officials banning Asian Champions League games in Iran, saying those matches should be played in third countries.
The AFC's decision came in the wake of the downing of a Ukraine International Airlines' (UIA) passenger plane over Tehran that killed all 176 onboard.
A day later, on January 19, Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, branded the AFC ban a "cowardly decision", alleging that Saudi Arabia was behind the move.
Abbas Araqchi accused Riyadh of taking political advantage of the downing of a Ukrainian International Airlines' passenger plane by Iran's Revolution Guard Corps' anti-air missiles on January 8, to force the decision on AFC.
However, Araqchi did not table any evidence for his accusation against Saudi Arabia.
Iranians initial response to the AFC's decision was defiant, insisting that their country was safe enough to hold international games.
Furthermore, in an orchestrated way, they threatened that four Iranian soccer clubs competing in the Asian Champions League, would boycott the games should the AFC insist on its "unfair" decision.
Nonetheless, in a U-turn on Thursday, the authorities announced that they had reached a "compromise" with the AFC to avoid a boycott.
The Asian Football Confederation said it hosted club officials from Iran on Thursday and agreed on how to stage three rounds of group-stage games in February and March.
The AFC has also confirmed that Iran's two other Champions League sides, Shahr Khodro and Esteqlal (Esteghlal), have agreed to play their preliminary games in the UAE on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the so-called "victorious" compromise has triggered a barrage of criticism on Iranian social media and soccer circles.
Dismissing the compromise, Esteqlal's coach, Farhad Majdi, said, "Which victory? They have created an atmosphere that nobody dares to present opposing views. They were insisting that they would never relent to hold our home match in the United Arab Emirates. Yet, they changed their position overnight. They disrupted our team's concentration for a week, and that is not a victory."
Bundesliga former superstar, Mehdi Mahdavi Kia, has also lambasted the Islamic Republic authorities for lying and covering up the truth.
"They are talking about a great compromise," Eintracht Frankfurt's former footballer said on his Instagram page, adding, "Alas, lying and projection have deeply penetrated into Iran's flesh and bones."