Iran pursue long awaited title

Three-time Asian Cup champions Iran haven't made the final since 1976.

    Iran captain Mehdi Mahdavikia is confident of leading
    his team to a fourth Asian Cup title [Al Jazeera] 

    Iran, three-time Asian Cup champions, are looking to win a record fourth title as they kick-off their 2007 campaign against Uzbekistan at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

    Often thought of as one of the strongest sides in the confederation, Iran have disappointed in the continental tournament recently, as they have not made the final since their run of three crowns in a row in 1968, 1972 and 1976.

    A string of third placings in 1980, '88, '96 and 2004, along with a fourth place in 1984 have seen the West Asian nation always there or there-abouts in the competition, without making it to the ultimate match in recent times.

    Team captain Mehdi Mahdavikia will lead a squad comprised of new faces and old stagers in what he believes is the perfect mix to take Iran to a long awaited Asian Cup final.

    "We have a good team now, it's stronger than the 2006 Fifa World Cup team," Mahdavikia told a press conference on Tuesday.

    "The composition is of young players and experienced players, which makes a good team."

    The midfielder was confident about taking over as a senior player in the side with the likes of defender Yahya Golmohammadi and prolific striker Ali Daei no longer around to provide leadership and direction.

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    "Ali Daei was a very honourable player in our team, we can never forget him and his name is always with our team," Mahdavikia said.

    "This is my fourth Asian Cup, we have experienced players playing in Europe and we convey this experience to the younger players."

    Iran, currently ranked number two in Asia by Fifa, take on Uzbekistan in their opening Group C match, with the fifth-ranked Asian side sure to provide a stern test in difficult conditions.

    "We have a tough game against Uzbekistan, they are a fit team and have the advantage of good physical fitness.  If we win the first match, we can then think about the next stage," said Mahdavikia.

    Not to be underestimated

    Iran coach Amir Ghalenoei says the gulf is
    narrowing between Asian teams [Al Jazeera]

    National coach Amir Ghalenoei agreed, but was also confident that his side had acclimatised to the hot and humid conditions in Kuala Lumpur.

    "The weather and the climate are hard for us, but the team have trained well, and we have adapted," Ghalenoei said.

    "We have already arranged and set our program very well, we know that Malaysia has a different climate with high humidity.

    "All of our players are injury free and ready for the game."

    With Asian Cup big guns Australia and Japan already off to shaky starts, Ghalenoei was not about to underestimate his side's opponents, which also include Malaysia and China in Group C.

    Instead, the 43-year-old pointed to the positive development of football in the Asian confederation, suggesting that it was no surprise to see the likes of Thailand, Oman, Vietnam and Qatar springing surprises.

    "As you are aware of the results that have happened over the past two days, it shows that footballing nations in Asia are getting closer to each other and the situation is going to be very hard for all teams," he said.

    "The matches we have are hard, our opponents are strong.  We have to think technically, think about the matches, especially against Uzbekistan. They are a good strong team."

    "We respect all other teams, no teams can be underestimated."

    Other teams in the tournament would do well not to underestimate Iran, as they seem well placed to break their 30-year drought.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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