Tayebi: We're targeting the semi-finals
When Hossein Tayebi stepped into the fray at the Huamark Indoor Stadium during Iran's opening game at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012, he could scarcely have imagined that he would steal the show by notching the decisive goal as his country held eventual finalists Spain to a draw.
Just 24 at the time, he was the third youngest member of an Iran squad embarking on their sixth Futsal World Cup campaign. He began the match on the bench, but made his mark after coming on and then opening his account in this prestigious tournament.
Tayebi recently looked back on this experience in an interview with FIFA.com: "We couldn't have got off to a better start in the competition. As I recall, we could even have beaten Spain. Personally speaking, I couldn't have dreamed of a better start to the World Cup because my goal earned us a point."
"We played that first game with all our heart. We were determined to get that World Cup up and running on a positive note. The staff had studied Spain's style of play in depth and I remember that we almost scored a winner, hitting the post at 2-2. Spain performed well against us – they're a great team and I have a lot of respect for them."
Following this draw with the Spaniards, Iran overcame Morocco and Panama to progress from the group in second place. However, their run was ended in the Round of 16 by Colombia, a defeat that continued to rankle the Tasisat Daryaei schemer for a long while afterwards.
"It was really disappointing to get knocked out by Colombia. I can remember the match perfectly. We had a man sent off. We hardly allowed Colombia any chances, but then we lost it in the final moments. Before Thailand 2012, no one expected us to go out at that stage, but futsal dealt us a cruel hand that day."
Reunion time Iran will be up against some familiar faces in the group stage of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016, where they will take on not just Spain but also Morocco, whom Tayebi and Co edged past four years ago. Their third opponents, meanwhile, will be somewhat more of an unknown quantity in Azerbaijan.
The Asian champions will once again be kicking off against Spain, on this occasion in Medellin on 12 September. Tayebi stressed that he and his team-mates will be gunning for victory in this heavyweight bout: "I can assure you that every time the Iranian national futsal team enter the pitch, we do so to win, because we're among the world's powerhouses in this sport. We respect the Spaniards but we want to win our first match in Colombia. Encounters between Spain and Iran are always spectacular and tight affairs, but we're determined to get the win."
"We know that Azerbaijan have a strong team, even though we've never faced them," he continued. "The coaching staff have watched two of their games, though, and told us that they play some good stuff. As I said before, we play to win and that match will be no exception."
Despite his confidence in his own side's abilities, Tayebi is nevertheless mindful that several other countries have kicked on in recent years and so it will prove a tough task for Iran to achieve their goal of advancing to at least the last four.
"I think most teams' level has improved, which means the competition will be stiff and there will be no easy games. There are no favourites on paper and every side will be made to work hard for wins."
"We're going to do our best to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup and play with heart. We respect all the other teams a great deal, but we're determined to succeed."
Inspired by Shamsaee Tayebi is hopeful that the strike he bagged in Thailand four years ago will not be his last on the world stage, although collective glory remains his number-one target. "I was delighted to find the net against Spain. It was the most important goal of my career. Scoring at a World Cup is something unforgettable for any player," he said, before quickly clarifying that, "As far as I'm concerned, the team's success comes before my scoring statistics."
"It's exciting to see your name on the scoresheet in a World Cup match but, like I said, the team's targets are more important. The fact that I've scored at a World Cup before shows that I can play my part within the group."
In his eagerness to do his bit and perform his role with aplomb, Tayebi is inspired by the example of former Iran stars such as ex-national team captain Vahid Shamsaee, whom he described as "one of the best players in futsal history".
"Vahid is a real legend and I have tremendous respect for him. He's a great man who had a lot of success in his career. I'm proud to be his compatriot. I love the way he played and I'm going to try to follow in his footsteps by living long in all the Iranian fans' memories."
Colombia 2016 could provide the perfect platform for Tayebi to fulfil this dream by not just adding to his World Cup goal tally, but accomplishing something that not even the great Shamsaee was able to – helping his country through to the semi-finals of the global showpiece.