Carlos Queiroz has already earned his place in the history books as the first Portuguese coach to have secured consecutive FIFA World Cup™ qualifications. At South Africa 2010 he led Portugal to the Round of 16, and it is now time for Iran to return to the biggest stage in world football.
Brazil 2014 is just around the corner and the fact that Team Melli are taking part may be just what Iranian football needs to progress to another level. In Asian qualifying Iran won Group A, surpassing favourites Korea Republic in the final match and consigning Uzbekistan to the play-offs.
Despite coming in for criticism over the course of the campaign, Iran are now set to play a fourth FIFA World Cup in their history. "It was the result of two years’ work. The team kept itself united, with fantastic spirit and enormous conviction that we had to give our best at each game," Queiroz told FIFA.com.
"With a little bit of luck, which is always needed, we got the points we required," Queiroz said. "It’s a fantastic achievement, and we even edged first place ahead of Korea. There was no doubt about qualification, it was definite. I’m very satisfied."
What we want from Brazil 2014 is for us to be significantly better than we are today.
The coach managed to shield the group from external pressures and pass on praise to the players: “The most important thing was the group that I’ve had over these two years," Queiroz said. "We all stayed united, from the President of the Federation to the players, both on and off the bench.
"That was key to success and we never worried about the small things. We ignored the critics because we were committed to our path. The players were fantastic, both technically and mentally."
Despite this, Queiroz does not hide the fact that he had to impose certain important rules, always with the belief that the team is above the individual: “It wasn’t easy because we needed to take some less popular decisions, but the message was clear: no one is above the interests of the team," he said.
"That’s why we had to pick players with courage and the right attitude. I wanted players who would serve the team, not be served by the team. That’s how we created a squad with great self-esteem. And, of course, we’ve made millions of Iranians happy.”
Growing with the best
So what are Team Melli's objectives for the FIFA World Cup? “Realistically, can Iran win the tournament? Clearly no one believes that," said Queiroz. "We are far from a goal of that magnitude, as Iranian football still isn’t close to the great powerhouses of Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Germany, England or Italy. We have to accept that,” the former Real Madrid coach said. “We have to make a worthy, creditable contribution, one that will honour and make all the supporters in Iran proud. How are we going to do that? With a wide-ranging, intensive preparation, as without that we won’t be able to compete against the big teams,” he said.
“Providing, after the World Cup, Iran has taken a step forward in the quality of its football, that will constitute a successful tournament. The tournament has to lead to Iran having better pitches, better turf, a better league, better coaches and more attractive football. What we want from Brazil 2014 is for us to be significantly better than we are today,” said Queiroz.
“In a nutshell, our aim is to take an enormous leap forward, put ourselves on the same rung as Japan and Korea and take our place, definitively, among the top three Asian sides,” he said.
Queiroz has already been to the new Maracana stadium, where he watched the FIFA Confederations Cup Final live. “I went to Brazil to take the pulse of the World Cup," he said. "The environment is going to be very serious, really demanding and there’s no room for playing around or being amateurs.
"I also went to see what the training facilities are like and start to make decisions so that when we arrive, we have a good hotel and a good training centre. That was the objective of my visit."
The Portuguese coach was happy to describe how he felt watching the FIFA Confederations Cup Final between Brazil and Spain – a small taster of what the 32 sides are going to face: “The atmosphere at the Confederations Cup final was fantastic.
"You could already feel and smell what the next World Cup is going to be like. The Maracana showed what it's going to be like. Brazil were fair winners and Spain were not on top form,” he concluded.