Iran’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013 campaign may not have started the way they wanted, with defeat to Brazil, but the Asians’ chances of progressing to the quarter-finals are still in their own hands after bouncing back with victory over Senegal.
Yet that is not the only reason Mohammad Ahmadzadeh cannot stop smiling as he strolls through the corridors of the Tahua To'ata stadium. The 26-year-old’s hat-trick helped propel Iran to a 5-3 triumph against the Africans and simultaneously made him Asia’s all-time scorer at the tournament. His tally of 11 goals edged him past the previous incumbents, Japan’s Takeshi Kawaharazuka and Bahrain’s Rashed Salem, by one.
Nevertheless, Ahmadzadeh is swift to share the credit. “We’re a team, we’re united,” he told FIFA.com. “It doesn’t matter who scores because nobody puts themselves above the rest of the squad. The only thing we need to think about is beating Ukraine as we’ve been preparing for this tournament for 18 months and we’d be massively disappointed if we didn’t reach the last eight.”
That focus shines through further when analysing his country’s victory over Senegal: “We knew that if we defeated them, Ukraine would have to overcome Brazil and then beat us by a big margin. Even though we’re satisfied with the way we played, we know we can do better.”
Ahmadzadeh appears at home on the sand, elegantly combining speed and precision. His natural ability may stem from being born and raised in the city of Roudsar on the Caspian Sea, 320 kilometres from Iran’s capital Tehran. Roudsar is a compound of the Persian words ‘rud’ (river) and ‘sar’ (head), owing to the fact that the city is flanked by two rivers.
“I’ve been playing on sand as long as I can remember,” the No11 said. “I used to play 11-a-side football too, but I’ve been doing this professionally for nine years now. I’ve played in countries like United Arab Emirates and Belarus but I’d like to test myself in some of the bigger leagues."
Anyone who witnessed his slight 1.75m frame compete against a physically imposing Senegal side will know he certainly appears to be ready for the challenge. Despite the corporal disparity, Ahmadzadeh still managed to excel and fire his side to victory.
“It’s not the first time the subject’s come up,” he said. “But even though people say that we’re smaller, I always tell them that we’re strong too. We even showed that against Brazil, in a match we didn’t deserve to lose.”
A self-confessed fan of Spanish football, Ahmadzadeh does not hesitate when asked who his role models are: “In beach soccer it’s Benjamin, in 11-a-side it’s Ronaldinho. But if I had to compare myself to someone then it’d be with [Franck] Ribery, because I can play out wide as well.”
As avid an admirer as Ahmadzadeh is of that trio, he is also aware of the revered status he and his team-mates enjoy in their homeland: “We know how we’re perceived back home and we know what the expectations are. We’ll do everything we can to be in the last eight.”