Doustimehr: We are the underdogs
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Currently preparing his squad for the FIFA U-17 World Cup United Arab Emirates 2013, which begins on 19 October, Iran coach Ali Doustimehr is hoping he can improve on the country’s promising world-finals showing of four years ago.

The Iranians kicked off their campaign at Nigeria 2009 in fine style with a 2-0 win over Gambia, following up with a goalless draw against Colombia and a 1-0 defeat of the Netherlands to seal first place in their group.

Though Uruguay promptly halted their progress by downing them 2-1 in the Round of 16, Iran had nevertheless achieved their best ever performance in an 11-a-side world finals competition, with only the country’s futsal team having gone further on the global stage.

As he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview, their 49-year-old coach is hoping they can go even further this time around, setting his team the target of a place in the last four.

“The boys and the coaching staff are very motivated,” he said, describing the sense of belief in the Iran camp. “I’ve got the same assistants I had in Nigeria and everyone wants to do their bit to help us reach the semi-finals. The players know that a good display at the U-17 World Cup could improve their chances of breaking into the full national side. That’s what they all dream about.”  

“We will be taking the best possible team to the Emirates but it won’t be easy,” he added. “We’re the underdogs and we need to be strong mentally. Our preparations have gone well and we’ve played friendlies against Finland, Turkey, Italy, Slovenia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.”

Reflecting on the progress Asian sides have been making in youth tournaments of late, Doustimehr cited Iraq’s run to the semi-finals of the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 as a source of inspiration:

“Asia will be represented in the UAE by the host nation, Iran, Japan, Uzbekistan and Iraq. Every team on the continent is paying a lot of attention to training and we need to keep pace. Iraq’s efforts at the U-20 World Cup showed how far Asian sides have come in these age groups.”

Learning lessons
Iran’s first opponents in Group E are Argentina, followed by Canada and Austria, a schedule that prompted the seasoned coach to comment: “The teams are all there on merit and there won’t be any pushovers.”

Doustimehr has no shortage of experience at youth level, having taken charge of the U-17 national side in Nigeria four years ago and the Iran team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001.

Assessing the importance of competing at the highest level, he said: “The World Cup is like no other competition. It gives you the chance to make history and change your destiny.

“You’re always learning in football,” he continued. “We missed out on the chance to reach the last eight in 2009, though we’ve learned the lessons of that setback. The experience you pick up in a World Cup is worth that of many other competitions combined.”

That experience will be needed when Doustimehr and his charges set about bettering Iran’s landmark run in 2009, as he acknowledged: “Like I said before, we are determined to make it to the last four. I’m going to draw on everything I learned in 2001 and 2009 to take the team forward.”