Following Iran’s quarter-final triumph, when coach Seyed Nazemalsharieh said “our winning factor is being able to maintain our composure to the very last minute”, you wouldn’t have been surprised if he was picturing the tall figure of Ahmad Esmaeilpour.
In all honesty, it’s beginning to look like Iran’s No3 is a fan of the dramatic. The Asian champions have knocked out two South American sides in two games, with both exiting the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016 courtesy of late interventions from his right foot.
While his winning penalty in the shootout with Brazil, following a pulsating 4-4 draw in the round of 16, was script-worthy stuff, his strike against Paraguay – coming just 22 seconds from another round of spot-kicks – was arguably even more dramatic. Locked at 3-3 following a cat-and-mouse encounter, with both pulling clear before being pegged back, a shot by Mahdi Javid was parried into his path.
“It was like something fell from the sky,” he recalled to FIFA.com, picturing the ball skipping up off the court and into his path. “It’s a moment that I can’t really describe. In that instance I was a little bit anxious, worried I might not take the opportunity, but all I was thinking about was connecting with the shot. I knew it could change the destiny of our team.”
And that’s what he’s done in successive games, each celebrated in similarly ecstatic style. “They were both very sweet moments, and will remain as real treasured memories forever."
Were they something less common from his hammer of a right, and his second goal not so dramatic, all the talk could easily have been about Iran’s 1-1 leveller – a sweetly-struck missile that was laser-guided into the top corner from 12 metres. “It’s not the first time I’ve scored a goal like that,” he said with a knowing look.
Winding up his traction engine of a leg and attempting similar efforts all night – one of his main priorities – you can tell he loves the sight of the ball whistling into that top corner. “Everyone enjoys scoring spectacular goals like that,” he added.
No doubt a feeling his team-mate Javid shares, having struck a near-identical effort later in the game. But whose was better, Esmaeilpour’s or Javid’s? “That’s for others to judge, it’s not for me to say, but personally I enjoyed Javid’s goal,” he replied with a wry smile – one which morphed into a laugh when complimented on his diplomacy.
New heights in sight
But Esmaeilpour’s goals have more than just won them the games on the day, his last-gasp heroics have seen Iran equal their best-ever Futsal World Cup performance, dating back to a fourth-place finish in 1992. “It’s been 24 years since we last reached the semi-finals, so our first aim was to equal that, which we’ve fulfilled, so the very least we want to achieve now is finish third and get a medal.”
The obstacle they have to negotiate to exceed that target is Russia, a prospect that disappoints the rangy pivot – but not for a reason you might think. “Some of us had hoped to be facing Spain, because we’re very driven to make amends for the mistakes we made in the opening game,” he said, looking back to humbling start to the tournament.
“We believe the difference between the two teams is not reflected at 5-1. We would have like to have had that chance, but the next opponent is Russia and we’re ready.”
And having seen Spain’s elimination ensure we will have a new champion crowned, why not Iran? “Certainly, that’s what we’re hoping for.”