Preview: Mexico v Iran

The opening match of Group D between Mexico and Iran will be played at Nuremberg’s Franken-Stadion on Sunday, with both teams encountering difficulties during their preparations.

    Heads up: Iran's Ali Daei to lead his team in their Cup opener

    It has been suggested that the Iranians’ tournament build up has been affected by political tensions over Tehran's nuclear programme and current political stand-off with the United States and Europe.

    The Football Federation of Iran was unable to arrange several friendly matches, including proposed lead-up games against Ghana, Tunisia, and Czech Republic, with the instability of Iran’s international relations being touted as the cause.

    The Iranians, coached by Croatian Branko Ivankovic, set out on their third World Cup Finals campaign in an attempt to make it past the group stage for the first time.

    The three-time Asian Cup winners have also been setback by injury with German-based midfielder Ferydoon Zandi ruled out of the match, while left back Satter Zare will play despite twisting his knee at training on Thursday.

    Ali Daei, Iran captain, emphasised the significance of his side’s opening match. "This is the most important game. We know the game against Portugal will be really hard also so we really need to gain points in this game," Daei said.

    37 year old Daei was the leading goal scorer in Asian qualifying and he, along with midfield playmakers Mehdi Mahdavikia and Ali Karimi dubbed “the Persian Maradona” will hope to break down the Mexico’s tough defence.

    Bayern Munich based Karimi may well be the key for the Iranians with Ivankovic allowing him free license on the pitch to conjure up scoring opportunities.

    Tragedy struck the Mexicans earlier in the week when the father of first choice goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez died of a heart attack just days before he was due to fly to Germany to watch his son play.

    Mexico's reserve keeper Jesus
    Corona may play against Iran

    Coach Ricardo La Volpe will give Sanchez, who flew back to Mexico on Wednesday, every opportunity to return and play in the match against Iran.  Captain and key central defender Rafael Marquez outlined the impact it has had on his team.

    "It's like the team has been punctured," Marquez said.  "We are all very sad and just want to help Oswaldo now."

    The Barcelona based defender will manage Mexico’s defence while up front for El Tricolor, target man Jared Borgetti will team up with the exciting Guillermo Franco to create a formidable attacking duo.

    With the rest of Group D being made up of World Cup debutants Angola, and the stylish yet underachieving Portugal, the top two spots are there for any of the four teams to take.

    Mexico have been given a generous 4th place ranking by FIFA going into the tournament and while the Iranians are ranked just 23rd the match should be a lot closer than these numbers suggest.

    Ivankovic praised his first up opponents ahead of the match.  "Mexico are very compact, aggressive and fast… actually, they're excellent," he said. "Sometimes they're playing very boring, but very successful."

    The Iranians will be hoping their Central American rivals are more boring than successful in Nuremberg on Sunday.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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