Realistic goals for Team Melli

Realism is not a trait usually associated with football fans, but it is always a necessary one for coaches. While the Iranian faithful are hoping for their futsal team to improve on their 1992 semi-final performance in October's FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008, coach Hossein Shams downplayed any lofty expectations.

"There is always the possibility to do better, but the fact remains that we failed to progress beyond the group stage at three straight World Cups, in 1996, 2000 and 2004," Shams told in a recent exclusive interview. "Our initial goal is to qualify for the second stage."

Having said that, being realistic doesn't mean that Team Melli are short of ambition. "Winning the World Cup is everyone's dream of course, and we are no exception," continued Shams, under whom the players are undergoing final preparations on Kish Island in the south of Iran, where the local weather resembles that of Rio de Janeiro. "But we can't think about that until we reach the latter stages."

Group strategy
Most would agree that Iran have been placed in one of the toughest groups. Pitted against reigning world champions Spain, Czech Republic, Libya and Uruguay, Iran's qualifying task will be difficult, with only the top two teams advancing.

"This is a group as tough as you can imagine. Besides Spain, there is Libya, the African champions, and both Czech Republic and Uruguay are respected in futsal on their respective continents," said Shams in assessing the group.

Iran begin their campaign against Spain on 1 October. They can take heart from the fact that they lost only narrowly, by 2-1, to the world champions in a friendly in August. The team's convincing performance that day gave Shams plenty of confidence. "Spain are exceptional, and they should be the only team that are likely to put us in trouble. But we must avoid any slip-ups against other teams."

Shams, who has overseen five of Iran's nine continental victories and guided them to two FIFA Futsal World Cups, has mixed youth with experience in his squad. "We have retained four players who played at the last World Cup, including the AFC Futsal Player of the Year Vahid Shamsaei, to provide the necessary experience. But the new boys will also have a role to play. I've been particularly impressed with Asghar Hassan Zade and Mostafa Taieb, although they're still only teenagers."

"The young players have gained good competitive experience from this year's AFC Futsal Championship as well as some friendlies, so they shouldn't be intimidated when the World Cup kicks off."