Iran seeks World Cup success on third try
Iran will make its third World Cup appearance. This time, it would like to get past the group phase.
Midfielder Fereydoon Zandi believes a positive result in the opening World Cup game against Mexico on June 11 is vital if the Iranians harbour any hope of progressing to the last 16 for the first time.
Zandi, released by Bundesliga side Kaiserslautern at the end of this season, is one of four players on Branko Ivankovic's squad to have played in Germany last year. The others are Bayern Munich's Ali Karimi, Vahid Hashemian of Hanover 96 and SV Hamburg star Mehdi Mahdavikia.
"We will show our ability in Germany but still the opener against Mexico will be crucial in deciding our fate," the 27-year-old Zandi told the Asian Football Confederation's official website. "We will try our best against Mexico because the result of this match will affect our performance in the remaining games."
After its clash with the Mexicans in Nuremberg, Iran will play Portugal on June 17 in Frankfurt before traveling to Leipzig to meet Angola in its final Group D match on June 21.
Ivankovic has nothing but praise for his four German-based stars.
"They are my key players, they form the skeleton of our team," said the Croatian coach of the Bundesliga quartet. "Mahdavikia had an outstanding season. Ali Karimi is the soul of our game. Zandi and Hashemian have the capabilities to decide the game.
"The whole fabric of our team with experienced, young and key players make us a strong team."
In their first World Cup in Argentina in 1978, the Iranians sprung a surprise when they played Scotland to a draw. Then 20 years later in France, they failed to progress past the group phase again, but did defeat the United States, 2-1, in a much-hyped meeting in Lyon.
But anything less than advancing will be a disappointment for this team.
After Iran's 5-2 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina last Wednesday in a warmup match in Tehran's Azadi stadium, a small ceremony was held by the country's football federation to wish the players good luck for the tournament. The team had previously played to a 2-2 draw with Croatia in Osijek.
"We showed that our players are good enough," Ivankovic said. "Now let's see how we do in Germany."