Confident Iran cautious of Korea DPR
© AFP

Three-time champions Iran, increasingly confident of winning their first AFC Asian Cup in 35 years, are approaching Korea DPR with extreme caution ahead of their vital second group match tomorrow.

"We're very, very pleased with our first victory and we're looking forward to trying to decide our destiny in the next match," Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi said on the eve of the Group D clash. "We're very confident. With each match, we get stronger and perform better."

Iran beat their old foes and defending champions Iraq 2-1 in their Asian Cup opener while doggedly defensive Korea DPR salvaged an uninspiring goalless draw with the United Arab Emirates in a tough group.

But the US-educated Ghotbi warned that Iran's unscathed record of 13 wins and three draws in internationals with the communist country won't guarantee his side an easy win against the FIFA World Cup™ finalists.

"Korea is a very difficult team to play against because they're committed to defending in numbers. There are fighters in every position and they can be very dangerous on quick counter-attacks," said the 46-year-old.

"They can cause problems for all teams," added Ghotbi, who has been guiding Iran since April 2009. But still he declared: "We're confident that if we execute our tactical plan then we can gain the three points."

There are fighters in every position and they can be very dangerous on quick counter-attacks.
Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi's assessment of upcoming opponents Korea DPR

Veteran defender Mohammad Nosrati, who has been capped 76 times since 2002, agreed: "We know they are very good in defence and good on the counterattack. They have confidence from the World Cup. But we're going to win this game. We hope to go to the next round."

None of the Middle East stalwarts - including other three-time Asian Cup winners Saudi Arabia -qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where Korea DPR meekly bowed out without a single point. The Koreans, 1980 Asian Cup semi-finalists, badly need three points after their disappointing opening draw, which coach Jo Tong-Sop called an "unexpected" result. But it might have been far worse for the unadventurous Koreans, with the UAE having the better of the game.

"We've analysed our first match and we will try to do better in the next two matches," said the 51-year-old. He admitted that the lopsided head-to-head record against Iran "could have a psychological impact on the players."

"Iran are very tough and physically fit. They use the whole width of the pitch," he said. "But we've prepared well for the Iran match."

Jo said that Bochum striker Jong Tae-Se, who has scored eight goals for the German second-division side since moving after the World Cup, was "physically prepared" to feature again for Korea DPR despite his nagging knee problem. The prolific Jong is central to the North's bid to get out of the group.

Their Japan-based midfielder An Yong-Hak said: "Most of us played in the World Cup and we are very optimistic about the Asian Cup. Iranian defenders run fast and strong. But we will try to pass through the defenders."