The idea of experiencing a perfect day, in which everything comes together and goes exactly as planned, is a dream for most people. For Mostapha Hashemi, that day came on Saturday 19 October. His stunning goal for Iran shortly after kick-off against FIFA U-17 World Cup title-favourites Argentina in the United Arab Emirates has set the tone for the rest of their campaign
“I saw the ball, controlled it and just shot,” the defender recalled in an interview with FIFA.com the following morning. “I’d never have thought it would go in.” His looping strike, a perfectly executed half-volley from 25 yards, flew in just under the crossbar, leaving Argentinian goalkeeper Augusto Batalla no chance. “I was really shocked, just stunned,” he continued. “Then suddenly everyone came running towards me, players, coaches and substitutes, and they were all cheering me. It was unbelievable.”
I’m sure we’ll be better in the next match. We’ll need to be just as focused and hopefully we can pick up a first win.
At that point just 55 seconds had passed in the Rashid Stadium in Dubai, meaning Hashemi’s effort - his first at international level - is the ninth-fastest goal in tournament history. And while a strike of that calibre would be enough to make most people’s day, it was not the only reason the youngster was celebrating on Saturday: it was also his 17th birthday. “Everything was just perfect,” said Hashemi, who plays for Iranian club Danesh Fereydon Kenar. “It was my birthday, I scored and we took a point off the favourites. That it was such a special goal makes it all the better. I’m really happy we didn’t lose.”
The Iranians were cheered on in the stadium by a large contingent of travelling fans, who had created a jubilant atmosphere with their oversized flags, songs and seemingly constant applause. “Of course it gives you an extra push when you’ve got support like that,” Hashemi said. Alongside family and friends, the numbers were swollen by some of the roughly 50,000 Iranians who live in Dubai.
Despite the occasion, the self-confessed fan of Real Madrid and their Brazilian defender Marcelo, did not celebrate too much, as the match against Argentina took precedence. Hashemi will make amends, however, perhaps by sharing a cake with his team-mates, but first up will be a phone call to his family back in Iran.
Yet any rest period for the Asians will be short-lived, as their next game against Canada is on Tuesday. “We played well against Argentina and the point we won puts us in a good position,” Hashemi said. “I’m sure we’ll be better in the next match. We’ll need to be just as focused and hopefully we can pick up a first win. If we can do that and manage to beat Austria then we could even top the group. That’d help us avoid the more difficult opponents in the Round of 16.”
Two victories and a draw would emulate Iran’s success at Nigeria 2009, where they won their group following triumphs over Gambia (2-0), the Netherlands (1-0) and a goalless stalemate with Colombia. Then, as now, coach Ali Doustimehr was in charge of the side, and the 49-year-old will prepare his troops as well as ever ahead of their coming ties. Both the Canucks and Austria would be well advised to do the same, paying particular attention to the Iranian No2 with a fierce shot from distance. If not, they could find themselves chasing the game before most of the spectators have even taken their seats.