19 December, 2022
25 May, 2023
8 Behnam Yakhchali (IRI)
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Iran stars excited as Gorgan, ZobAhan bring friendly rivalry to WASL-West Asia Semi-Finals

BEIRUT (Lebanon) - Brothers-in-arms will be on opposing sides as Gorgan and ZobAhan go head-to-head in the WASL-West Asia League Semi-Finals.

Two of Iran's best ball clubs are mostly made up of Team Melli stalwarts, making their best-of-3 series practically a battle among long-time national teammates that makes stars Arsalan Kazemi and Behnam Yakhchali all the more excited.

Fans may see them as rivals now that they wear different colors but it is and will always be a friendly competition, according to the veteran internationalists.

"We are all good friends and teammates in the national team," said Yakhchali, who has been suiting up for the seniors' team since 2014.

"Sajjad [Mashayekhi] and I are from the same generation. I am sure it is as interesting to watch us play alongside each other as much as playing against each other," he furthered. "I am sure fans will be excited, too!"

Kazemi seconded as much. "It's always fun to play against Mohammad Jamshidi, Behnam, Perry Petty... like, we're all close friends, we know each other's games. It's gonna be really fun to play against those guys."

Both teams made it to the West Asia semis through separate routes. Gorgan punched a direct flight by clinching the no. 1 seed in Group B following a 101-91 conquest of Al Naft in the penultimate match of the Group Phase.

"We worked hard for this, to make sure we finish first and qualify directly to the Semi-Finals," said Yakhchali, who dropped 29 points in that road win.


Coincidentally, it was also the Iraqi side which ZobAhan beat in the Qualification to Semi-Finals to advance, doing so by way of a convincing 95-83 victory in the deciding Game 3 just last week at the Azadi Basketball Hall in Tehran.


"After the game (Game 2) we lost in Baghdad, I knew that we weren't gonna lose this game," said Kazemi, who starred in the victory with 28 points and 13 rebounds. "We really prepared for it, and we got the result we wanted."

Those results now lead to a rematch of last season's Iranian Basketball Super League Finals, with Gorgan coming in with the mental edge as they won that best-of-5 series via gentleman's sweep on the way to the championship.


They sure know each other like the backs of their hands but Yakhchali begs to differ, saying that it's always a different battle every time they cross paths.

"Every game, every series is different," the 28-year-old guard offered. "We know each other very well, so it is adjustment after adjustment."

"We are not the same teams we played last season -- and not even [the same] teams from one month ago. Both teams have better chemistry, and it will be a game of adjustments and concentration," he continued.

Yakhchali and Kazemi, though, are in agreement that it would be an exciting series ahead, which starts on Thursday at the Azadi Basketball Hall in Tehran.

"We played against each other in the Finals last year in the Iranian Super League, and I think it's gonna be a great match-up, and it's gonna be a great game for the fans to come and enjoy," said Kazemi.

"Both teams will be at the peak of their performance, and I'm sure it will be a great series," added Yakhchali.

The two teams are keen on conquering the upstart league but the real winner in the upcoming semis bout, according to Yakhchali, is Iran basketball.

"Both clubs are among the top organizations in Iran with a huge fan base. The rivalry is helping raise the level of basketball in Iran, and it is super interesting to face each other in the Semi-Finals," he said.