Iran coach Carlos Queiroz told AFP he hopes his side can overcome poor preparations to make an impact at the World Cup finals in Brazil, but admits that the draw has left them facing a huge task.
Iran, who are known among fans as ‘Team Melli’, will be competing in their fourth World Cup finals after previous appearances in 1978, 1998 and 2006 and will face one of the favourites, Argentina, in Group F along with African champions Nigeria and dark horses Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“This is our mission impossible once, twice and three times,” Queiroz, the 60-year-old who took charge as head coach in April 2011, told AFP in Tehran. “But that is what makes the tournament attractive.”
Iran are Asia’s top-ranked team but Queiroz acknowledges that his squad, made up largely of home-based players, lacks the quality needed to make a serious impact.
Instead, a meeting with a side like Argentina and their star man Lionel Messi, is simply to be enjoyed with the pressure off.
“You have to pay millions of dollars to play a friendly match against Argentina, but my players have won this game with their sweat,” he said.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to face a team that plays with that player (Messi) who is not human.”
As for their chances of qualifying for the last 16, Queiroz says they have “a duty to try our luck” even if it seems like “an unrealistic dream.”
At least the Portuguese himself is not short of experience, having been coach of Real Madrid and assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
In 2010 he coached his native Portugal at the World Cup in South Africa, taking them to the last 16 where they lost 1-0 to eventual winners Spain.
Taking Iran that far would be an enormous achievement, especially as his preparations for this year’s finals are a daily struggle in a country whose access to the global banking system has been cut due to international sanctions.
As a result, a scheduled training camp in Portugal was cancelled in September due to a lack of funds, and Queiroz admits Iran are some way behind in their plans.
“We lost six months. I hope we will be able to find a solution as nothing is clearly scheduled for the moment,” he said, bemoaning the lack of financial support.
But despite the difficulties, Queiroz believes the passion for the game in Iran can help them spring a surprise or two in Brazil.
“Iranians have football in their blood and soul. You don’t need to promote football through marketing here,” he said of a country that has enjoyed considerable success at youth level as well as in futsal and in beach soccer.
“It is amazing to see that — with so few resources and capabilities — the federation has achieved so much.
“With its potential, imagine what Iran could achieve if it had the resources of Qatar.”
When Queiroz took over as coach, he arrived to find a national federation that was “lethargic, lacking ambition.”
He tried to make changes, including bringing in Iranian players with dual nationality, such as Daniel Davari of Germany’s Eintracht Braunschweig, Fulham midfielder Ashkan Dejagah, Dutch-Iranian striker Reza Ghoochannejhad and, most recently, American-born right-back Steven Beitashour of San Jose Earthquakes.
However, his efforts were met with scepticism.
“In a conservative society like Iran, it is not easy to talk about reform and change of habits. It is not easy in Iran, not easy in other parts of the world.
“We cannot be competitive without international experience. The only thing here similar to professional football is that at the end of the month, players get their salary.
“But my commitment to Iranians is to make them happy. This is our World Cup, this is our time to tell the world that Iran is a football country.”
For now, his focus is purely on the World Cup, but Queiroz admits that he has unspecified “offers” on the table for when his contract runs out on July 31.