Is Al Hilal's game against Nassaji Mazandaran FC in the AFC Champions League cancelled?

  • Al Hilal's AFC Champions League game is in doubt due to poor playing surface
  • Saudi side set to face Iranian outfit Nassaji Mazandaran FC in Tehran
  • Al Ittihad's game against Iranian opposition was postponed on Monday

Al Hilal's upcoming AFC Champions League game is in jeopardy
Al Hilal's upcoming AFC Champions League game is in jeopardy / Francois Nel/GettyImages

It wasn't so long ago when Neymar was suiting up alongside fellow genius Kylian Mbappe in a bid to claim Paris Saint-Germain's first UEFA Champions League crown.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant the conclusion to the 2019/20 competition was played entirely in Portugal, with the remaining knockout ties post-disruption all being played over one leg. It was a summer festival of elite-level football, and it was Paris' Brazilian superstar who stole the show.

Neymar's run to the 2020 UEFA Champions League final was one for the ages; an exhibition of his supreme ability. It was a legacy-defining campaign that ultimately came up short despite a fine collective performance in the final against treble-winners Bayern Munich.

That was just three years ago. For Neymar, it must feel like a lifetime has since passed. Instead of dazzling the world stage and competing for the highest honours, the 31-year-old is now responding to videos of dodgy playing surfaces that he's supposed to be waltzing across.

Life at Al Hilal, eh?

Why is Al Hilal's AFC Champions League game against Nassaji Mazandaran FC in jeopardy?

Neymar's Al Hilal are scheduled to face Iranian outfit Nassaji Mazandaran FC in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday evening, but a wretched pitch has thrust the contest into doubt.

The game isn't taking place at Nassaji's home stadium but at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran. However, the playing surface is in a bad condition.

"I must not be responsible for the inappropriate and undesirable conditions of Azadi stadium," Nassaji manager Seyyed Mehdi Rahmati said pre-match, as videos of the surface emerged over the weekend. One particular video showed workers patching up bare areas of turf, to which Neymar responded on X, formerly known as Twitter: "This is not possible," with a laughing emoji.

Reports then emerged on Monday of the Saudi Football Federation ordering Al Hilal to return from Iran, but the game, as it stands, is going ahead on Tuesday evening.

Have any other AFC Champions League games been postponed?

Fellow Saudi Pro League outfit Al Ittihad have already had their second AFC Champions League group game postponed but for a very different reason.

The current Saudi champions were also in Iran as they prepared to take on Sepahan on Monday, but the game was postponed after Al Ittihad refused to leave their dressing room due to a statue of an assassinated Iranian general being placed at the entrance to the pitch.

Qasem Soleimani, the general in question, was killed in a United States drone strike in January 2020 and gained martyrdom status by the ruling Iranian regime. Soleimani was a prominent figure in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a designated terrorist organisation by Saudi Arabia.

Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been strained, and this is the first time since 2016 that Iranian and Saudi clubs have been allowed to face each other home and away in the AFC Champions League. Recent encounters have been played at a neutral venue.