You can still see the disappointment etched into the faces of
the Sepahan players. Two-and-a-half weeks ago, the Iranians
suffered a narrow defeat to Japanese side Urawa Reds in the AFC
Champions League final, missing out on what would have been the
greatest triumph in the club's history.
Despite that defeat, Sepahan still qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007, and while they say that revenge is a dish best served cold, it will be piping hot if they make it through to the quarter-finals and set up a repeat of the Champions League decider.
"We're not here in Japan for a holiday," said
Sepahan's Croatian coach Luka Bonacic. "It's a great
honour for us to be taking part in the Club World Cup. We'll
give it everything we've got to get some good results. I hope
we'll get to play Urawa Reds again."
Before they can think about a re-match, however, they will have to beat New Zealand outfit Waitakere United. The Iranians are very much the favourites to get through against the OFC O-League winners, but Bonacic does not want his troops looking past their current opponents and concentrating on a potential revenge match with Urawa. "We need to be fully focused on Waitakere and take it one match at a time. Not all of their players are professionals, but they can all certainly play good football."
Uncertainty surrounds the availability of two of Sepahan's key players, captain Moharram Navidkia and striker Mahmoud Karimi who face late fitness tests ahead of Friday's match. "I hope I'll be ready in time," said a determined Navidkia. "Every man has a dream, and mine is to play in the Club World Cup."
The midfielder played for German outfit Bochum for a while and was part of the Iran team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. He has high hopes for his club here in Japan and hopes a good performance will be the springboard for a recall to the national team, in which he has only featured briefly since last year's FIFA World Cup. "It's really important for Sepahan to play well at the Club World Cup, since I want to get back into Team Melli."
Sepahan's foreign imports are also hoping to use the
tournament as a platform for their careers. "It's an
opportunity to show what we're capable of. We going to play to
our strengths and that will hopefully help us win some
matches," said Iraqi defender Hossein Kazemi at the team's
opening press conference in Japan.
"We'll give it our best shot and hopefully that will bring us some success. We've prepared really well for the tournament," added fellow defender Jaba Mujiri from Georgia.