Since his debut on 1 December 1998, Vahid Hashemian has earned 43 international caps for Iran, scoring 13 goals so far. Had he not retired the international scene for four years after the AFC Asian Cup in 2000, his record for Team Melli would almost certainly make even more impressive reading.
Since returning to the national fold, the 32-year-old has developed into a first-choice regular and key member of the team. He started all three of Iran’s matches at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, a feat he repeated at the Asian Cup the following year.
Current Iran boss Ali Daei appears to be just as convinced as his predecessors by the man nicknamed 'The Helicopter' for his startling leaping ability. Hashemian, currently back on the books at VfL Bochum after spells with Bayern Munich and Hanover, has started three of his country’s four games so far in the decisive Asian qualifying round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.
Iran currently lie third in Asian qualifying Group 2, where they are battling with Korea Republic, Korea DPR, Saudi Arabia and the UAE for a place in South Africa. FIFA.com talked to the striker about the qualifying task, Iranian fans and his time in Germany.
FIFA.com: Vahid Hashemian, what’s your take on Iran’s 1-1 home draw with Korea Republic in your most recent FIFA World Cup qualifier?
Vahid Hashemian: It was a very difficult game for me personally, because my mother died a few days previously. Originally, I didn’t want to play, but the coach asked me if I would. We played very well and led until close to the end. It’s not a bad result for us.
Tell us what it feels like playing in front of thousands of passionate Iranian fans in Tehran.
We sometimes attract crowds of up to 100,000, and they’re there to see us win. It’s a real motivating factor, and their support can give us a real edge.
Your next 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa qualifier on 28 March is a crucial clash with Saudi Arabia. What are your thoughts on the game?
Saudi Arabia will be determined to beat us at our place under their new coach, as they’re fourth in the table at present. The Saudis have always been stronger in the latter stages of qualifying, although I can’t say why. In any case, it’s no concern of ours. We want to take our chance and win the game, which would make our route to South Africa a lot easier.
Iran lie third in Group 2 behind Korea Republic and Korea DPR, out of the qualifying places for South Africa. What’s your view on qualifying so far?
Korea Republic are a good team, but not as good as they were in the past, in my opinion. Korea DPR battle away and run till they drop, and have come on very nicely. Our team are good enough to qualify for the World Cup finals. Saudi Arabia are a decent side too, but they seem to have problems away from home.
In the event Iran book a fourth FIFA World Cup trip to add to your previous appearances in 1978, 1998 and 2006, which team in your group do you see claiming the second place in South Africa?
I think it’ll be Korea Republic. I think we’ll finish top of the group with the South Koreans second. But there’s still a long way to go, and nothing’s decided yet.
How has the appointment of Ali Daei influenced the team?
He’s been head coach for a year or so now. He’s brought in a lot of young, new faces, which is good news for us. He’s put his faith in both younger and more experienced players. He’s also hired respected German coach Erich Rutemoeller, which will definitely help us develop.
What role do you and Karim Bagheri, the most experienced current internationals, play in the Iran team?
I think our experience is important, but we have to keep on delivering the goods too. Karim’s a star in the Iranian league. You don’t rejuvenate a team overnight, it’s a process and it takes a while. We respect the younger players, and the feeling’s mutual.
You’ve now spent almost a decade in the German Bundesliga. How has that helped you on the international stage with Iran?
Every training session and match in Germany is good preparation for doing the business at the right moment for Iran.
You returned to former club Bochum this season after spells with Bayern Munich and Hanover, but you’ve made very few appearances in the 2008/09 Bundesliga campaign. What is stopping you claiming a regular place in the Bochum side?
I’ve always been open about my love for Bochum. Bochum is home to me. I’ve been a little unlucky this season with ligament and back injuries. But you don’t always get what you want in football. I need to be patient and train hard. We strikers are judged on goals, and I hope I’ll soon be given another chance to score goals for VfL.
Are you afraid the situation at your club may affect your position in the Iran team?
I’m trying to give it my best shot in Bochum, and I hope I’ll be back to playing regularly in the Bundesliga again soon. But we have very high standards in training here, Ali Daei has continued to call me up, and I’ve then gone on and played. At the end of the day, it’s a decision for the coach, both at club and country level.
You are now 32, so are you considering a move back home to finish your career in Iran?
No, the opposite in fact. I want to finish my career in Germany and then perhaps return to Iran as a coach. I’ve already earned my German FA ‘B’ licence, and I want to go for an ‘A’ licence at some point in the future.