International sanctions over Iran's nuclear programme have cast a shadow over Carlos Queiroz's efforts to build a team that can make a mark on the World Cup finals.
The Portuguese coach will need something special to motivate his multi-national band of players to take on global superstars Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko when they confront Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia in Group F.
Iranians sang and danced in the streets of Tehran after their side beat South Korea in June to clinch a place in the finals. Spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the team had brought national “happiness”.
But Iran has suffered on and off the field in recent months. As the country is excluded from the banking system, Queiroz struggles each day to mount his campaign for Brazil.
This week Queiroz and some of his players complained that not enough kit had been supplied by German company Uhlsport and that the boots were too small and the socks shrank.
Uhlsport and the Iran federation denied the accusations, which have not helped relations with Queiroz.
Iran will be appearing in their fourth World Cup finals — after 1978, 1998 (where they beat the United States) and 2006 — but they have never got past the first round groups.
A 2-1 defeat at home to Guinea, ranked 53rd in the world, in March did not help Queiroz’s preparations.
Queiroz demanded a greater effort then, but as financial sanctions bite, the preparation and the target looks tougher.
Ten of the 30-man preliminary squad announced this week are based abroad — including Fulham midfielder Ashkan Dejagah and Charlton striker Reza Ghoochannejhad.
Last month, only 12 players attended a training camp in South Africa. The squad is now in Austria preparing for friendly games against Montenegro on May 26 and Trinidad and Tobago on June 8.
“It’s true we have financial problems, but if Queiroz wants his camps we are completely ready to organise them,” Iranian Football Federation President Ali Kafashian told the Mehr news agency in March.
The federation needs more than $6.5 million to finance World Cup preparations and to repay some debts, the president added.
Queiroz’s future is also in doubt. He has not yet announced whether to stay with Iran and the disputes over kit all reinforce rumours of his departure.
“My contract ends on July 31, 2014 and I don’t think I am in the federation’s plans. Nobody has talked to me about it for the moment,” Queiroz told AFP in February.
The players are trying hard to remain positive despite the morosity.
“I think we can still go in a good state and get good results,” said Dejagah, who played in the Fulham side relegated from the English Premier League this month.
“The players have been together a long time. We have a good team, players with international experience. If we use the time we have left we can achieve something,” said the 27-year-old attacking midfielder after the Guinea defeat.
Born in Tehran, his family moved to Germany and he won the European under-21 championship for Germany in 2009 and then started playing for Iran in 2011.
Star striker Ghoochannejhad, known as “Gucci” to Iranians, scored the goal that secured the finals place and who plays for Charlton in the English Championship.
The man with one of the longest names in football moved to the Netherlands as a child and played for his adopted country up to under-23 level, before Queiroz gave him the call.
The coach has also brought in Daniel Davari of Germany’s Eintracht Braunschweig, another Iranian-German, and American-born right-back Steven Beitashour of San Jose Earthquakes.
Iran could even have a Brazilian in their team. Former Vasco da Gama and Paraenense striker Eder Luciano, better known as Edinho, moved to Iran in 2008 to play for Mes Kerman and secured Iranian nationality this year.
He was not named in the 30-man squad.