Iran confident despite tough draw

Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi has targetted a place in the next round after the AFC Asian Cup finals draw placed Iran with defending champions and neighbours Iraq, media reported on Saturday.

On Friday the draw in the Asian Cup 2011 host nation of Qatar grouped Iraq with eastern neighbours Iran, the Asian powerhouse of the late 1960s through the 1970s, as well as Korea DPR and the United Arab Emirates.

Iran, with a current FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking of 63 that puts them behind Australia, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia, have won the Asian cup three times - in 1968, 1972 and 1976 - and were host to the continent's biggest football event in 1968 and 1976.

I am content with the draw and the teams in our group. We will do our best to make it to the next round.
Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi after being put with Iraq, Korea DPR and UAE

"There is no easy team in football nowadays and so we will display our best," Ghotbi was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency. "The Asian teams have evolved and no-one can say that such and such teams are easy targets.

"But I am content with the draw and the teams in our group. We will do our best to make it to the next round. I cannot say the standing we may reach but I vow to perform to our best," he added.

Most difficult group?
Ghotbi's optimism was echoed by the chairman of the Iran's football federation Ali Kafashian, though he conceded it is not an easy road. "If we want to keep our name in Asia and plan for the World Cup then we should not consider any team to be difficult to beat. We should be strong enough to beat any Asian team, there is this strength in Team Melli," he said.

"We know the North Korean team and we had a good record in winning against them, we also know UAE and we know their playing tactics. Iraq is a strong team," Kafashian added, as quoted by ISNA news agency. He said that the federation plans to "organise good friendly matches with heavyweights such as Japan and South Korea in order to shape up the team".

However, Iranian skipper Javad Nekounam, who plays for Spanish side Osasuna, was more cautious. "I did not say that we are scared of North Korea, what I meant was that I do not like they way they play football," he told the Fars news agency. "Group D is the most difficult group."

The tournament opens at the 50,000 capacity Khalifa Stadium and will be played in January rather than July to avoid the searing summer heat in the Qatari capital. Five stadiums will be used - Khalifa Stadium, Al Sadd Stadium, Al Gharafa Stadium, Al Rayyan Stadium and Qatar Sports Club Stadium - for the event, which kicks off on January 7 until 29.