Abu Dhabi/Bengaluru, December 31: Asia's No.1 football team Iran are the cricket's equivalent of South Africa. They start most of the tournaments as favourites, only to fail when it matters most.
At the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia, theye were the most-impressive team in the group stage, maintaining a clean slate, before bowing out to archrivals Iraq on penalties in a gripping quarterfinal tie.
'Team Melli" has won the the AFC Asian Cup three times in a row (1968, 1972 and 1976). But since that triumph at home in 1976 where they beat Kuwait 1-0 in the final, Iran have failed to lift the Asian crown.
As the 2019 AFC Asian Cup begins in a few days in the UAE, Iran has the best chance to end their 42-year wait. But their charismatic coach Carlos Queiroz has guarded his wards against complaceny and wants them to instead focus on the job at hand.
"Of course, it is well known and recognised and well appreciated that the Iran national team have made fantastic progress in terms of attitude, organisation and discipline but the biggest mistake that happens around teams is that when you have good moments some people think that it's enough, that we don't need to do anything more," Queiroz told AFC Media Channel.
The Portuguese taskmaster who was Sir Alex Furguson's assistant when Manchester United won the UEFA Champions League in 2008 and has also taken Iran to successive FIFA World Cups believes it isn't fair to underestimate any team in Asia.
At the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, Iran are drawn with familiar foes Iraq, Vietnam and Yemen in Group D. Team Melli was based in 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts Qatar for 10 days as part of their training camp. The team went through their paces at the Doha-based internationally acclaimed Aspire Academy, which is the country's football's nerve-centre of excellence.
L'équipe nationale de football de l'#Iran s'entraîne au Camp Aspire à Doha, sous la supervision de son entraîneur Carlos #Queiroz, pour préparer sa participation à la Coupe d'Asie 2019https://t.co/l7ggNd0Emi pic.twitter.com/k7McWYTu6r— IRNA Français (@Irnafrench) December 31, 2018
"Many have the wrong perceptions that the other competitors are just sitting at home and watching us, but this is a completely wrong impression. Everyone's hopes are open and the challenge is in front of everybody," he added.
The former Real Madrid assistant manager was also of the opinion that the first game of any team in the tournament is the most important.
Iran open their campaign against Yemen on January 7 at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
"The first game is always the most difficult game in these kind of competitions because it's everything for the winner and almost nothing for the loser in a short competition of three games. It is a game we need to win, like always. It's a crucial game," Queiroz concluded.
(Source: AFC Media)