Tehran Lose & Win

On Saturday evening, Tehran was all groomed for Asian club football's event of the year.

The Asian Champions League final second leg, between Iranian champions Persepolis and Kashima Antlers of Japan took place in the famous Azadi Stadium, in what appeared to be the perfect venue for an emotional night in front of tens of thousands of fans.

The match entered the history books even before kick-off, with 850 women allowed to enter the stadium as fans - a first in Asian club competitions in Iran since 1979.

In addition, female journalists were also present in the ground, working freely with accreditation and IDs. The female fans were carefully selected from friends and relatives of players and football administrators - yet this is a massive step, especially in this kind of event, towards opening the Azadi for them in the future.

Persepolis was the first Iranian team to host an Asian Champions League final since 2007, when Sepahan lost to Urawa Red Diamonds, also from Japan, who went on to win the trophy. 

The last time an Iranian team won the tournament was in 1993, when PAS Tehran beat Saudi Al-Shabab in Manama.

The first half started in the usual stressed environment of a full Azadi packed with 80,000 fans in the stands. Persepolis attacked but weren't clinical enough to take their chances. Their players invested a huge amount of energy but couldn't convert it into an advantage on the scoreboard.

Iraq's Bashar Resan and Nigeria's Godwin Mensha tried to create the right chances, but the rest of the Persepolis team looked numb and indifferent under the huge pressure coming from the stands.

Persepolis ran and put in an effort, but the Japanese were playing slowly and smartly, waiting for their turn to sting.

As the minutes went by, Persepolis was losing the game - basically to themselves. Kashima Antlers set up the best trap seen in club football for years. 

Persepolis tried avidly to find the goal but lacked the final touch in every move. Corner, free kick or counter-attack, it all seemed too much for Branko Ivankovich's players.

The game ended 0-0, giving Kashima Antlers their first ever Champions League title, and the second in a row for a Japanese team, after Urawa Red Diamonds won last year against Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal. 
Yet, there were some positives in Persepolis' display: Despite the transfers embargo that club has suffered from due to illegal listings of Mehdi Taremi, despite the limited squad, they made it up to the final, kicked Al-Sadd out, became the first Iranian club through to this stage since 2010, and challenged and changed the national debate about women in football stands.

Regardless of the loss, the red side of Tehran deserves nothing but respect.