• Iran’s Mohammed Ahmadzadeh set to contest his sixth FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup
  • Ahmadzadeh scored a hat-trick in his first ever world finals match
  • In his last appearance in the competition, Iran were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Tahiti

When Iran captain Mohammad Ahmadzadeh walks out on to the sand at the National Beach Soccer Arena in Nassau on Thursday, his mind will no doubt go back to his FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup debut over ten years ago. Thanks to the extensive experience he has acquired since then, he will be hoping to lead his troops all the way to the semi-finals of Bahamas 2017.

Now 30, Ahmadzadeh began playing the game during his childhood in the coastal town of Rudsar. Capped for the first time by his country in 2006, he is now a mainstay of the national team, having appeared in five Beach Soccer World Cups to date.

The scorer of 17 goals in as many games on the big stage, he admitted to being “astonished” at that figure, as he explained in an interview with FIFA.com: “It makes me want to kick on and shine at the next World Cup and to score even more goals. I’ve got the experience to make that happen.”

Recalling his happiest world finals memory to date, he said: “Tahiti [2013] was the tournament I’ve enjoyed the most so far. We reached the last eight for the very first time and I had a big part to play in that success.”

Ahmadzadeh has seen enough and learned enough along the way to gauge how far Iran have come in recent times: “We were just amateurs 11 years ago. But in the last five years professional players have come into the Iran team and we’ve played a lot of games against other top-level national sides.

“When we went to Tahiti, we lacked experience and our only thought was to get past the group phase. We went on to reach the quarter-finals, though. And in the Bahamas, we’ll be giving our all to make the last four.”

*Thinking big *If they are to reach that objective, Ahmadzadeh and his team-mates will need to negotiate a tough group that also features Mexico, Italy and Nigeria. El Tri will provide Iran’s first opponents on Thursday, with Gli *Azzurri *up next two days later, and the Nigerians last on Monday 1 May.

Despite the scale of the task awaiting the team from the Middle East, Ahmadzadeh is confident about their chances of success: “I think we’re going to win the group. We’re going to do everything we can to beat Italy and Mexico. We know both of them well because we’ve played them before in competitions and friendlies.”

Two years ago in Portugal, Ahmadzadeh told FIFA.com that Iran’s goal was to make the second round at least, one they fulfilled by advancing to the last eight for the second world finals running. At Bahamas 2017, however, they are aiming to go further.

“Iran are one of the top teams in the world and we’re not inferior to anyone,” said the skipper. “I’m convinced that if we can make the second round, then we’ll go on to the last four.”

In trying to make that happen, Ahmadzadeh will have the support of a core of equally seasoned players: “There are five or six of us who’ve played at five World Cups. That’s half a team with a lot of experience.”

Wrapping things up, the goalscorer looked back on his previous appearances on the global stage and pointed to what he can bring to Iran’s bid for glory at Bahamas 2017: “I’ve played in a lot of Beach Soccer World Cup matches and I’ve seen the highs and lows. The team has pulled together whenever things have gone against us, and I’m going to draw on all my experience to help my team-mates and make sure we can go as far as we can.”

Ahmadzadeh’s confidence in Iranian success is well founded. A passionate exponent of beach soccer and a veteran of five World Cups, he has every right to dream of big things on Bahamian sand over the next few weeks.

*Did you know? *- Ahmadzadeh has played in the United Arab Emirates and Belarus.
- Former Brazil player Benjamin is one of his role models.

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