“This is one of the greatest moments of not only my professional career, but also my personal life. We kind of made history tonight. This is the first time we have beaten Brazil and it has happened at the World Cup. I’m sure I will never forget this moment.”
While a level of calm had befallen Ali Hassan Zadeh in the few hours since Iran sealed a scintillating penalty-shootout win over reigning FIFA Futsal World Cup holders Brazil, it was clear the emotional magnitude of it was still very much present.
Zadeh was a key protagonist a tale that twisted and turned through an electric evening of futsal, earning the Iranians a place in the quarter-finals in blockbuster style. The underdogs didn’t edge ahead in the encounter until the penultimate round of penalties, with Zadeh the scorer of the equaliser at 3-3 that dragged a fascinating game into extra time.
“Brazil are the most prestigious futsal team in the world. I think everybody before the game would have had them down to win on paper, while expecting us to go home,” he told FIFA.com once back at his Bucaramanga hotel.
“In the early stages of the game we were not at our best and we expected to perform better, but gradually we improved, gradually the pressure grew on Brazil, and we found our rhythm in the play.”
With just four minutes left on the clock, and nothing to lose, Iran opted to go all in and decided to substitute their goalkeeper – the exceptional Alireza Sammi – and throw five men forward. “They were leading 3-2 and it put a lot of pressure on us. Because of this we decided to play with a flying goalkeeper, and the goal I scored was something we had devised in training. It was a tactically thought-out move and the shot was something marvellous. It was crucial.”
Bowled over by the value of the goal, having been 3-1 down earlier in the half, an emotional outpouring was understandable, even for a veteran of Brazil 2008 and Thailand 2012. “As a professional, when you score that important a goal, you want to celebrate, you want to show your joy. But at the same time I was telling my team-mates that the work was not finished yet.”
We were happy that we had won the game, but we were also disappointed to see Falcao crying and to say goodbye to the game in that fashion.
Nor was it, as a backs-against-the-wall extra-time effort from the holders saw the score extend to 4-4, before penalties arrived. Zadeh was first to step forward, having already seen Rodrigo ripple the net for Brazil. “With only three penalties, if you score it hands a lot of confidence to your team-mates, while if you miss the shot your team-mates will take a hit from it,” he explained.
“I tried to use all the experience I have from those two previous World Cups to build up for that shot. It wasn’t something pre-planned, but I tried to keep myself calm, keep my concentration and score.”
Score he did. It was Ari of Brazil who was the unfortunate one, stepping up next to see his effort cannon off the post. It then fell to the right foot of Ahmad Esmaeilpour to finish the job, before his team-mates went berserk. “It was pure elation, I was thrilled, that joy was indescribable. It was something unforgettable,” the softly-spoken Zadeh said.
There was also a touching moment to follow, as Iran paid their tribute to the retiring Falcao, celebrating his career and lifting him before the crowd. “We were happy that we had won the game, but we were also disappointed to see Falcao crying and to say goodbye to the game in that fashion.
“So everybody decided spontaneously to share the happiness with Falcao and it shows the true spirit of Iranian sport and athletes, as we wanted to share that moment with the loser of the game as winners.”
While the emotional comedown will be heavy, Iran are not content with a last-eight finish. “We know this is not the end of the story for us, this was not our goal. Reaching the quarter-finals does not satisfy us, it does not fulfil our dreams. We are here to reach the semi-finals at least. We will be fully focussed on Paraguay from tomorrow morning.”
For that evening at least, though, it was Iran's time to bask in glory.