Junior Team Melli aim high

In the modern game, building mental strength and confidence is very much part of the armoury for most coaches and that is certainly true of Iran U-17 boss Ali Doustimehr. With little over a month until their 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup opener, the Iranian mentor has proudly announced his team "have no weaknesses".

"The junior Team Melli features the most promising young talents from our country who are in their best conditions," Doustimehr told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview. "Our team have no weaknesses otherwise we wouldn't have won the Asian championship last year."

Boosted by such self-esteem, the coach of the Asian champions has set a lofty goal of attempting to translate the team's continental hegemony onto the global stage. "I have a strong faith in my team and I believe we can return from Nigeria as one of the medalists."

Group strategy
A top-three objective looks a daunting task for Iran, whose only previous appearance in the tournament concluded with three group losses at Trinidad and Tobago in 2001. The calibre of their group suggests Iran will have a tough ask with African champions Gambia the first to scrutinize their credentials. Next Doustimehr's charges meet Columbia before rounding off the group campaign against the Netherlands, who won bronze in their debut at Peru 2005.

Although all these opponents are capable of mounting a serious challenge for the group and even the tournament, Doustimehr remains unfazed. "To be honest we have little knowledge about our rivals but we should have 70 per cent possibility of winning the group."

Iran did indeed impress in Asian qualifying turning on several dominant performances in Uzbekistan last November en route to claiming the region's crown. After topping their group in a canter with three emphatic wins, they dispatched Syria 2-0 in the quarter-finals to book their place at Nigeria 2009. Then they fired three unanswered goals past United Arab Emirates in the semi-final clash before outstripping Korea Republic 2-1 to clinch their maiden continental title.

Striking prodigy
Among the stars of the qualification campaign was defensive cornerstone Bahram Dabbagh, creative midfielder Mehrdad Yeganeh and forward Kaveh Rezaei, who struck six times to steer Iran to the title and top the tournament's scoring chart. And it is in the striking prodigy that Doustimehr has showed his unwavering faith. "He is one of our ace players," said the coach, comparing Rezaei with Hossein Kaabi, a seven-year national team regular who was first unearthed at Trinidad and Tobago eight years ago. "His talents are superb and he is capable of making more of an impact then Kaabi did."

Having spent much of his coaching career with a number of Iranian youth teams, including taking the country to the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001, Doustimehr is all too aware how important the preparation can be in their build-up to Nigeria 2009. They have undergone a series of training camps over the past nine months, during which they played some high-level international friendlies to sharpen the form. Notably the team excelled in April's Altari Tournament in Italy, where they swept aside the likes of Paraguay, Georgia and Romania only to lose the final to Sparta Prague on penalties.

With the disappointment of missing South Africa 2010 still tormenting the Iranian football fraternity, Doustimehr is hoping that his side can live up to the expectations and help soothe the agony. "We sincerely wish that we can reignite the nation's footballing passion and spirit with success and our achievement can provide all footballers across the country with a timely morale-boost."