Iran captain Javad Nekounam has said that his side can win the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in 35 years and finally end the team's long "jinx".
The regional giants and three-time champions came from behind to beat old rivals Iraq on Tuesday and their campaign off to the perfect start in a tight-looking Group D that also includes Korea DPR and United Arab Emirates. Iran's next match is against the North Koreans on Saturday, as they bid to power their way to their first Asian Cup since 1976.
"I am confident more than anybody else that we can win the Asian Cup. I believe we are able to break the jinx," said defensive midfielder Nekounam, who plies his trade for Spanish La Liga club Osasuna.
The Iranians narrowly missed out on the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa and that disappointment is still burning in the players, Nekounam said. "We made the Iranian people so disappointed," he said. "It was big blow to all of us. "The players missed a big opportunity to pave the way for a better future as well. Nevertheless, we want to get back on track, starting at this Asian Cup."
The current Iran team lacks the big names of previous years and are no longer the dominant regional force they were in the 1960s and 1970s. Nor were they in scintillating form in the build-up to Doha. However, the 30-year-old Nekounam is unconcerned.
"Every period of football is specific," he said. "We saw big names in our football in each period and I am sure the current players can one day become superstars in the future. They are young and determined to turn into Asian and global names. I can't make any judgement now on who will be our next big star, it depends on what is going on in Team Melli.
"But a tournament like the Asian Cup is the perfect time for players to show themselves. It was the same for all famous players who take this opportunity to jump to a higher level. We have three or four players who have the potential to become stars, but at the end of the day it depends on how much effort they put in."