Chris Wang joins Iran for a training session and speaks with Andranik Teymourian.
Coach Amir Ghalenoei says team spirit is high in the
If any two teams know each other’s games in football, they would be Iran and Korea Republic.
The two were in the same qualifying group for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, and have met at the quarter-final stage in the past three editions of the tournament with Iran winning 6-2 in 1996, Korea getting up 2-1 in 2000 and Iran victorious 4-3 in 2004.
Now, the teams meet again in what should be an electrifying quarter-final clash at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.
“The match is a knockout, so it’s very important for our team,” Amir Ghalenoei, Iran coach, told a press conference on Saturday.
“We know South Korea very well as we played them in the preliminary stages.
“They are a very good and very strong team.”
Iran, after wins over Uzbekistan and Malaysia along with a draw with China, topped Group C and had the luxury of remaining at their first-round base of Kuala Lumpur, while Korea have had to move their set-up from Indonesia.
“Topping the group and staying in Malaysia has improved or team spirit,” said Ghalenoei.
“The hotel, accommodation, surroundings and climate are all familiar to us now. That is important.”
However Pim Verbeek, Korea Republic’s Dutch coach, said his team were pleased to be in the Malay capital after some tough matches in harsh conditions in Jakarta.
“We are happy to be in Kuala Lumpur. We had a good training session last night on a good field and we look forward to training at the stadium tonight,” Verbeek said.
“There is no excuse in travelling from Jakarta. We have all 23 players fit and we are ready to play against Iran.”
“I think we will win”
Iran defender Rahman Rezaei was focussed
Verbeek, who came under fire from Korean press earlier in the tournament amid allegations of a rift between the coach and players, said that although Iran looked a tough proposition, he was confident of victory.
“Since our arrival in Kuala Lumpur people have told me that Iran is the strongest team, and the tournament favourite. They are experienced, have all their foreign based players, and they are mentally and technically strong,” Verbeek said.
“They probably have better individual players, but we have a very strong team. I think we will win the game tomorrow night.”
Rahman Rezaei, the Iran defender who was involved in his side’s only conceded goal in the tournament so far – an own goal against Uzbekistan, said he would have to be at his best to deal with Korea’s style of play.
“Korea are a fast team. Very speedy,” Rezaei said.
“They move the ball from defence to attack very quickly. They are a strong side.
“We have played them already, but we shouldn’t look to the past, this is a new match between Iran and Korea,” added the Livorno player.
“It’s a vital match, a knock-out match, so we hope we can play well.”
Pim Verbeek will look for insight from Iranian
One Iranian who perhaps isn’t hoping his national team play well is Korea assistant coach Afshin Ghotbi, a Shiraz-born tactician who worked with the Korean team under Dutchmen Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat, and now under Verbeek.
“It’s a fact that Afshin knows everything about Iranian football,” Verbeek said.
“I think it’s definitely an advantage. He knows the players and the systems.”
However rival coach Ghalenoei played down Iranian link inside the Korean camp.
“It’s honourable for our country to have someone in a coaching position in the Korean team,” said the 43-year-old.
“But there is no psychological effect on our team. We respect him as a friend and as an opponent.”
Iran have a slight edge over Korea in recent head-to-head results, as they topped Group B of Asian Cup qualifying after a come-from-behind 1-1 draw in Seoul and a 2-0 win in Tehran.
The victor of this almighty clash will face the winner of the quarter-final between Iraq and Vietnam played in Bangkok also on Sunday.