Victors in no fewer than ten editions of the AFC Futsal Championship and having appeared at five consecutive FIFA Futsal World Cups, Iran are incontestably Asia’s biggest futsal superpower. In fact, their absence from the inaugural competition at the Netherlands 1989 aside, Team Melli have never failed to attend the global showpiece. To date their best performance came at Hong Kong 1992, when they reached the semi-finals and finished in fourth spot. Though they failed to emerge from the first group phase in 1996, 2000 and 2004, Iran shone again come Brazil 2008, when they finished in fifth place.
Touching down in the United Arab Emirates for this year’s AFC Futsal Championship as winners of the previous three editions and heavy favourites for the title, Iran ended the competition with alarm bells ringing loud in the camp. As expected, Team Melli flew out the blocks, winning all three of their group games and conceding just once in the process. A hard-fought 6-3 quarter-final success over Uzbekistan secured a semi-final berth and their passage to the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012, though they subsequently fell to a shock last-four reverse against the Thais themselves, losing 5-4 in extra time. Nor did their 4-0 dismantling of Australia in the match for third place offer much consolation for the Iranians, who missed out on the Asian title for only the second time in 12 continental tournaments.
Led by national-team legends such as Mohammad Taheri, Iran certainly have the talent to make a splash in Thailand. “This has been a warning call to us and we need to be prepared to ask ourselves the right questions ahead of the World Cup,” said coach Ali Sanei after the AFC event. “Even so, I think that this team is capable of finishing in the top four in the world.”
Of their six games at UAE 2012, Iran won five and lost just once, scoring 45 goals and conceding nine in the process. The squad’s seven-goal leading marksmen were Ali Hassanzadeh and Vahid Shamsaee, though the latter’s six assists enabled him to finish atop the scorers’ charts at the regional tournament for the eighth time.
5 - The number of FIFA Futsal World Cups that Iran have appeared at, a figure that has them level with Australia, USA and Italy as the countries to have appeared at the second-most editions of the tournament. The only nations to have taken part on more occasions are Brazil, Argentina and Spain.