Asian underdogs ready to bite
Although Iran’s record in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup leaves plenty of scope for improvement, with eight defeats and a single victory from their three previous participations, Team Melli are nevertheless brimming with determination and optimism as they embark on a fourth world title push in Ravenna. This self-belief is partly down to the West Asians’ successful showing in the qualification tournament, which was capped by an encouraging third-placed finish and a scintillating 6-2 win over United Arab Emirates. The campaign demonstrated how this young squad are already finding their feet, especially in front of goal where their fine attacking form suggests they are capable of causing a stir at beach soccer’s main event.
In previous editions of the global showpiece, Iran failed to make it past the group stage having notched a single victory overall, albeit it a spectacular one, 5-4 against Spain in 2007. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Iran coach Behzad Dadashzadeh underlined his faith in the team, declaring that his charges have no reason to fear the opposition. Indeed, not even the prospect of opening their campaign against hosts Italy, one of the pre-tournament favourites who will be eager to give the home fans something to cheer about, can dent his confidence: "Italy? We know all about them, we’ve prepared for the match by watching DVDs of their games. Although they are a technical and inventive side, I’m certain that the freshness of our team will cause them problems."
We have prepared very well, even better than for past campaigns.
"We have prepared very well, even better than for past campaigns,” explained the Iranian tactician, who is convinced that his players have all the attributes to tread new territory in the competition. “We have World Cup experience and have qualified on our own merit. I’m sure that Iran will shine in Ravenna, not only managing to win a game, but also progressing to the second stage". If Team Melli can show the same boldness on the pitch as their coach displays in front of the microphone, they are certainly capable of standing up to their formidable group rivals: "Senegal have an added advantage in terms of their physical power, whereas Switzerland are like Italy, technically strong and inventive with very experienced players," said Dadashzadeh. "That said, we fear no-one, we can beat both of them.
"If we manage to perform well right from the first match, as I believe will be the case, I think that Iran can go far in the tournament. I know my words might raise a few smiles but I think my team is fully capable of reaching the last four." As to his side’s specific attributes, the Iranian was keeping his cards close to his chest but revealed that his hopes hinged on incisive attacking combinations and experience: "We have prepared some interesting counter-attacking moves, but I won’t go into that now. You'll have to wait and see during the tournament. We are relying on a young but seasoned squad, with ten of the 12 having already taken part in Dubai in 2009."
Dadashzadeh is also seeking to take advantage of the fact that all the Iranian players selected for the finals in Ravenna hail from the north of the country, where they are used to playing in high summer temperatures: "We are prepared to play even in the heat. We don’t have a problem with it because the players all come from the area near the Caspian Sea and, since the climate in Ravenna is still very summery, that will definitely work in our favour."