Back in 2012, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz made a phone call to front man Reza Ghoochannejhad with a view to persuading him to join the national team. A youth international with the Netherlands at the time, the striker had a very clear message for Quieroz: “You didn’t have to call. I want to play for Iran.”
Ghoochannejhad has had little cause to regret the decision he made then, scoring some crucial goals in his country’s successful 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualification campaign, including the winner in their final qualifier against Korea Republic. The forward then appeared in all three of Iran’s matches in the world finals, scoring their one and only goal.
Not content with that, the 27-year-old also played a big hand in Team Melli’s qualification for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015, ending the preliminaries as joint top scorer.
With the continental finals having begun Down Under, FIFA.com caught up with Ghoochannejhad and asked him about his experiences in Brazil last year, how it feels to play for the country of his birth and his future plans away from the game.
FIFA.com: What did you make of Iran’s performances at Brazil 2014?
Reza Ghoochannejhad: Qualifying for the World Cup was a miracle and everyone was delighted to be going to Brazil. We were drawn in a tough group and few people were expecting much of us, but we played well, especially against Argentina. We might have lost, but we showed the world what we can do. We received a lot of messages of support from around the world and I hope we can keep on improving at the Asian Cup.
You represented the Netherlands’ at youth level before deciding to play for Iran. Did you harbour dreams of playing in the world’s biggest football tournament?
Yes, of course. Every player dreams of that and I’m grateful to God for giving me the chance to play in the World Cup, which was all the more special because it was held in Brazil. It was an amazing experience and I’ve got some unforgettable memories of it.
You scored Iran’s only goal at Brazil 2014, in the final match against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
That was another dream come true for me, though I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. We pulled the score back to 2-1 and we were hoping to equalise, go on and win the game and stay in the competition. Unfortunately, the goal came too late. Playing in the World Cup is an amazing experience in itself but to score in one is something that only a few players do. I’m very proud of what I did.
Iran play their opening Asian Cup match on Sunday. What are your hopes for a competition that your country has already won three times?
The Asian Cup will be different to the World Cup in terms of our expectations. We qualified with the best record of all the teams and Iran fans are expecting big things of us. We need to go out and do our job and forget about the pressure. We’ve been working well for the last year and I hope we can keep on making progress. We need to win our first match against Bahrain. I have a lot of faith in our coaching staff and Carlos Queiroz, who has a lot of experience. With him by our side, we’re sure to succeed.
Playing in the World Cup is an amazing experience in itself but to score in one is something that only a few players do.
Iran have been drawn alongside three teams from west Asia: Bahrain, Qatar and UAE. What do you think of the group?
Personally, it doesn’t make much difference to me. We’ve just come back from the World Cup, where we took on some great teams, and we won’t have any excuses. The important thing is to stay focused for these three matches and to come away with the results we want. We need to respect our opponents and get the job done.
You’re playing in Kuwait at the moment and a number of your team-mates also play in the Gulf. Is that an advantage do you think?
Absolutely. Football in the Gulf is not the same as in Europe, and my five months in Kuwait have given me the chance to acclimatise. It’s a definite advantage to have quite a few of us playing in the region. The three teams in our group all come from the Gulf and we know what to expect. I hope we can make the most of the experience we’ve had on the ground.
You finished joint top scorer in the qualifiers for the 2015 Asian Cup. Do you feel under any pressure to go out and do the same in Australia?
I don’t feel pressure so much as pride at playing for my country, which is something I’ve always spoken about. I’m just happy to help the team out by scoring goals, making assists and playing well. What’s most important, though, is that we reach the second round and make our fans happy. I’ll be pleased with that regardless of whether it’s me who’s scoring or my team-mates. Football is a team sport first and foremost.
You’ve been studying law and you speak four languages. Are you planning to continue with your university studies after your career?
I spent two years studying law when I was in the Netherlands. That was about three or four years ago. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and life doesn’t start and end with football. You need to keep on learning every day and improve yourself. It’s still too early for me to say what I’ll do after football because everything is happening so fast. It’s been a very busy year, what with the qualifiers for the Asian Cup, the World Cup in Brazil and the Asian Cup itself. There’s a lot going on in my career right now and I’m enjoying every minute of it. When I hang my boots up I’ll have the time to decide on my future.