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IRAN should be celebrating their fourth World Cup but the controversy surrounding their nuclear programme led to teams refusing to travel to play them in friendlies for fear of political sanctions.
Because of this, manager Carlos Queiroz managed to persuade the Iranian football federation to bring forward the end of the domestic season to April in order to prepare for the tournament.
With all overseas training camps cancelled, Queiroz has had to prepare by playing low-key friendlies and feels this could ruin their chances of progressing past the group stage for the first time in Iran’s history.
He said: “We try our best, we have limited resources, we have some issues in our preparations but the federation make a lot of efforts to give the best to the players and the team.”
Iran failed to impress in the friendlies arranged in Austria though, drawing 0-0 with both Belarus and Montenegro and despite scoring against Angola the match finished 1-1.
This was meant to be a joyous occasion.
Eight years since their last appearance at a World Cup and ranked number one in Asia, the political situation in the country has dampned spirits.
But football has the power to unite a nation and as the tournament grows closer, it has given the country something to cheer about once again.
“In the last three years despite all the difficulties, Iran has shown the number one most important thing in the football world — passion,” Queiroz said.
“If you have passion for the game that is always a good starting point.”
In a tricky group with Nigeria, Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina the chances of them reaching the next stage will depend on how they fare against the lesser giants in the group.
While fans remain optimistic, deep down they know only a miracle will see them play a fourth game in Brazil.
But the former Manchester United assistant feels that regardless of results Iran can take something away from the experience.
“We must take this World Cup as a learning process and that doesn’t mean that we go there for tourism,” he added.
“We go to Brazil to create a legacy and the legacy is to put the team in a good position to be stronger after the World Cup but better prepared and more experienced.”
“No doubt since I arrived, there is great progress in the players, great progress in the team. There is great potential in Iran, it is just a matter of putting things in the right place.
“Three years ago Iran was fourth or fifth in Asia and today they are the number one country.”
He is likely to set out his side to defend first and often keeps all 11 men behind the ball.
Defenders Jalal Hosseini and Pejman Montzeri will need to be at the top of their game to stop the likes of Lionel Messi and Edin Dzeko.
Going forward, Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah will be the difference maker and will need to be clinical when taking any chance Iran create.
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