Iran Pro League
Formed: 2001 (inaugural season 2001-02)
Number of Teams: 18
Relegation to: Azadegan League
Domestic Cup: Hazfi Cup
Current Champions: Sepahan
Most number of Championships: Sepahan (3)
The Iranian Pro/Premier League was eastablished in 2001. Prior to the establishment of the IPL, the highest football leagues in Iran were called Takht Jamshid Cup (took place from 1973 to 1979) and the Azadegan League (top flight league from 1991 to 2001). In the years that there was not a top flight league, most club teams competed in local leagues. Throughout the 80′s the main reason there was not an established top flight league was because of the Iran-Iraq war.
Upon the creation of the IPL, the Azadegan League reamined, but became the second highest division of Iranian football as opposed to being the top league. The IPL started out consisting of 14 teams in total, with the top 2 teams clinching positions in the AFC Champions League and the bottom 2 teams being relegated to the Azadegan. The top 2 teams from the Azadegan were then promoted to the IPL. In the 2004-05 season, the IPL grew to consisting of 16 teams, and again in 2007-08 adding another 2 spots to the league, now making it an 18 team league.
When the league started out, Iranian fans were expecting it to be very competetive. The league met the fans expecations, as the champions of the league was determined in the last few (sometimes the very last) match days. Esteghlal and Persepolis, the 2 most popular teams in the country with enormous fan bases, were both expected to dominate the league. Teams like Pas Tehran, Sepahan Isfahan, and Foolad Khuzestan all proved that Iranian football champions do not only lye amongst the Tehran based teams.
Over the years, the Iranian Pro League has been blosoming into a very entertaining league. Teams such as Esteghlal, Sepahan, Zob Ahan, and Mes Kerman have experienced great AFC Champions League campaigns.
Since the IPL is now seen as one of the strongest leagues in Asia, they were granted 4 AFC Champions League spots as of the 2007-08 season. The top 3 teams from the table and the winner of the Hazfi Cup advance to the following years edition of the Champions League. In recent years, Sepahan and Zob Ahan (both clubs from Esfahan) finished as runners up in the competition. Sepahan finished as runner up to Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in 2007 and Zob Ahan to Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in 2010.
The IPL has been home to some of the great foreigners competeting for their national teams such as Armando Sa’ (Mozambique), Taribo West (Nigeria), Rinaldo Cruzado (Peru), Carlos Fernandes (Angola), Frank Atsou (Togo), Hamlet Mikhtaryan (Armenia), Hawar Mullah Mohammad (Iraq), Ceasar Pelagrin (Uruguay), Mahamadou Tall (Burkina Faso), Rashad Sadygov (Azerbaijan), and many more. To go along with the noteable foreign players, some former/present noteable foreign managers in the Iranian Pro League are Zlatko Krancar, Nelo Vingada, Mustafa Denizli, Piere Littbarski, Werner Lorant, Luca Bonacic, Ernie Brandts, Milan Zivadinovic, Arrie Haan, and more.
The IPL is considered to be a top league in Asia, and the best from West Asia.
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