Iran’s national futsal team has, for many years now, been recognised as part of the game’s global elite. Despite this status, they have generally failed to live up to expectations at the FIFA Futsal World Cup over the past 20 years, a fourth-placed finish in their maiden appearance at Hong Kong 1992 notwithstanding.
Thailand 2012 should provide the Iranians with an ideal opportunity to taste real success in the showpiece event, though, according to midfielder Ali Hassanzadeh, who took some time out from the competition to chat to FIFA.com. “We’re aiming to finish in the top three,” said the player who made his tournament debut at Brazil 2008.
“To achieve that, we need to take one game at a time, and keep an eye on how our rivals are doing. We’re taking a careful approach, but that doesn’t prevent us from feeling optimistic."
Confidence and determination
The attack-minded No7’s sense of belief is based on tangible results, as the Asian representatives boast no fewer than ten AFC Futsal Championship titles. However, last time out, the Iranians had to content themselves with third spot in the continental competition. But far from feeling discouraged by this disappointing outcome, Hassanzadeh remains extremely confident.
“If everyone focuses 100 per cent on their role and follows the coach’s instructions, no other team in Asia can beat us – we’re a cut above the rest,” explained the 25-year-old. "The defeats that we’ve suffered at past Asian Championships were just one-offs."
Having received his first cap in 2007, Hassanzadeh has since amassed considerable international experience, establishing himself as one of the lynchpins of the side, to the extent that national coach Ali Sanei recently described him as Iran’s "leader" and "fulcrum".
“My success stems from my style of play," he said. "I always try to make myself available to my team-mates. I’m not the type of guy who acts like a star or plays selfishly – I give all I’ve got to the team. To become a good player, you firstly have to be a good team-mate. I plan to stick to those principles for as long as I’m playing."
When the subject of team objectives raises its head, Hassanzadeh exhibits an immediate change of attitude, however. He sits up straight, appearing to grow in stature. His voice takes on a firmer tone, and his stare becomes more intense, a reflection of the fact that the Iranians came to Thailand with lofty aims.
After having fought back to snatch a 2-2 draw in Group B with European champions Spain, Hazzandeh and his team-mates showed that they are indeed a force to be reckoned with by seeing off Morocco 2-1 in a match where the scoreline did not reflect the Asians’ domination.
“We were focused and we played well, but the ball just wouldn’t go in, to put it simply," said Hazzandeh. "On top of that, the Moroccan goalkeeper had a great match."
On Thursday, Iran will lock horns with Panama, while Spain face Morocco. Hassanzadeh and Co are confident that a resounding victory will send a strong signal to other tournament hopefuls that they intend making their Thailand 2012 adventure last as long as possible.