Ali Daei: "I can score 120 goals"
Among Iran's many outstanding talents, legendary Ali Daei is unquestionably the nation's top marksman and most influential figure. The talismanic, 35-year-old striker recently wrote his name into the record books by becoming the first-ever player to reach a century of international strikes. In a four-goal FIFA World Cup qualifying performance against Laos on 17 November, Daei whose name has become synonymous with goal getting in Asia took a giant step toward footballing immortality.
The game's all-time leading scorer nabbed his first international goal against Chinese Taipei back in 1994, and has never looked back. Heading into the Asian Zone's final round of qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, the Persian icon recently took time out to talk football with FIFAworldcup.com.
FIFAworldcup.com: With 102 goals in 133 appearances for Iran, you have set the scoring standard and become the first player to score 100 on the international stage, surpassing Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas' previous record of 84. You are also ahead of Pele's 77 for Brazil . How much does this mean heading into of the final round of qualifying for Germany 2006?
Ali Daei: I don't exactly know, to be honest. Over all these years, football has been my life and scoring goals has been my top priority. I always want to get as many goals as possible for both club and country. But there is one thing of which I am sure: 102 goals is not the end I am hoping to score 120 before we go to Germany.
What does reaching the FIFA World Cup mean to you?
The World Cup is every footballer's dream, without a doubt. In the past ten years I have played hard for the national team with the hopes of reaching the finals. We were thrilled to reach France in 1998 and our failure to make the grade for the USA in 1994 and Korea/Japan 2002 left a bitter taste for us.
How do you feel about holding the all-time international goals record?
To be honest, I am just a normal player scoring goals is my jobs. We have a good team and I always get great support. That is part of the reason why I have been able to score so many goals over the years. The 102 goals don't belong just to me, but to my team, my coach, and my supporters as well.
At 35 years of age, what is your secret to a wildly successful decade in the game?
Playing football is my profession. My motto is that you should always do your best. For the past ten years I have never stopped sharpening my skills and training hard. I live a simple life and try to make things as easy as possible. I have been so dedicated to football that I lost many things in my life, but I always do my best to be friendly and concentrate on my job.
But surely even Ali Daei will call it a day at some point. When you do hang up your boots, could current Iranian forwards, Ali Karimi, Vahin Hashemian, or Mehdi Mahdvikia prove worthy successors?
They are all very talented players and we have more youth coming through. I am just a player who works hard and if they keep up working hard, they can do things as well as or even better than I have.
You've reached the Asian Zone's last eight after a streak of difficult tests, including a 1-0 defeat in Tehran at the hands of Jordan. Was it difficult to recover from the loss?
The home loss was definitely an unexpected blow. But we had many good chances to score, while our opponents were just clever enough to capitalise on one of our few defensive errors. So I believed we were a better side and we would bounce back.
You played a key role in Iran's 2-0 victory in the qualifying decider with Jordan. How did the team manage to come back under such great pressure?
The loss to Jordan made life very difficult for us but it also taught us a good lesson about concentrating for a full 90 minutes. We always believed in ourselves and with a bit of composure and patience, we did the job in the all-important rematch .
You have been grouped with mighty Japan in Group B of the next round of qualifying for Germany 2006. Given that you were held to a goalless draw by an under-strength Japanese side in the group stage of this year's Asian Cup, are you a little worried?
In the Asian Cup we were the better side as we produced more chances to score - we were just unlucky. This time though things will be different, and Japan will have all their top players with them. But we have a good team and we are getting better and better so I believe we can play with any team.
Iran have enviable striking power, but the side is often criticised for being weak in defense. Do you think this criticism is legitimate?.
I think we have a far better defense now. Our players are clever and have learned a great deal in recent years. We are an attack-minded side and by attacking you are always going to have some problems at the back. But now we know better how to cope with these problems.
Bahrain left you with some hard feelings when they shattered your World Cup dream with a 3-1 victory in the final qualifier three years ago. But you went on to take revenge in the third place playoff of this year's Asian Cup. How do you rate your chances of beating Bahrain in the qualifiers this time?
We must be patient enough and play with cool heads. Bahrain are a good team but we can beat them if we play well. We will meet them in the opening game and it will be very important for us. The key is to concentrate on each match as it comes.
Korea DPR are an unfamiliar opponent, and you will have to travel to East Asia to play them. In your opinion, will this match create significant difficulties?
They are competent opponents and they cannot be underestimated. We played them twice in preliminaries of qualifying for 2004 Asian Cup, where we won both legs, a 3-1 away win in Pyongyang followed by a 3-0 home victory at Tehran. But they were far from easy victories.
Surely your goal is a place at Germany 2006, but suppose if you miss out on it this time again
No one can deny that we are one of Asia's top teams and we are hitting our peak-form at the moment. I strongly believe we will book our place in Germany because we are tough team to beat on our day.