Despite all the obstacles put in their path, Iran is confident they can defy the odds and break a 40 year Asian Cup drought.
Iran ranks as the number 1 team in Asia although their preparation for the tournament says otherwise.
A string of cancelled friendlies and bad luck due to injuries and poorly coordinated training sessions may have hindered all their chances.
Although this may be the case, Iran’s manager and former Real Madrid boss Carlos Queiroz has the experience that could overshadow the national team’s recent setbacks.
“We have big expectations and we’re ready to compete and to fight,” he told reporters after a training session.
That is exactly what Iran did against Bahrain tonight in Melbourne.
Iran controlled the game from start to finish with the help of over 10,000 loud supporting Iranian fans.
The Iranian fans had to wait until the 45th minute for their team to finally score. Ehsan Haji Safi controlled a clearing ball from the Bahraini keeper to volley it home into the top corner of the net; contending for what could be the goal of the tournament.
The second half saw much more of the same, nonstop chanting from the Iranians and a whirlwind of pressure on the Bahraini goal.
The sealer came for Iran in the 71st minute when Masoud Shojaei struck home a perfectly placed volley into the bottom left hand corner.
Iranian Coach Queiroz said he felt relief for his team.
“I feel very proud of them. We’ve come here with some limitations, when you play in the Asian cup, the most important competition for the nations in Asia and you play the opening match with two kids that have never played an international cap, Morteza not even a centre back and he plays like that, you must be happy.”
The large Iranian community in Melbourne along with travelling fans will act as a 12th man for their home nation, following the team wherever they go around Australia.
You can’t underestimate the power that the Iranian fans have on their players. Last time Iran played in Melbourne they pulled off a miracle 2-0 comeback against the Socceroos in the 1998 World Cup play-off. The game was played in front of a packed house at the MCG recording over 85,000 fans.
After witnessing tonight’s game, there’s no doubt the Iranian fans will be in full voice for their next group match against Qatar in Sydney.
“It’s such a beautiful stadium to play football, the spectators and the way we are treated here”, said Queiroz.
For me personally, tonight’s game sent shivers down my spine. The noise and atmosphere was absolutely electric bringing back memories of the World Cup in Brasil six months ago. The great thing about this Asian Cup is that it brings a diverse range of cultures and passion that we would not see without this tournament.
If history repeats itself which is a certain possibility, Iran could potentially meet up with host nation Australia and repeat one of the greatest football games ever played in this country.
Follow our team at THE TURF as we travel to Sydney tomorrow to cover the next Socceroos group match in the Asian Cup.
We will also be attending the Iran V Qatar match in Sydney next week.
Words by Ari Charilaou & Photography by Aleksandar Jason.