“Success” is the progressive realization of worthwhile goals. Team Melli has progressively achieved goals which have elevated the pride and expectations of a nation. Team Melli failed to qualify for World Cup 2002. This failure was the fuel for a new beginning…the beginning of ascension. Branko Ivancovic was brought on to lead Team Melli to glory. Team Melli, under Branko's leadership rose to the challenge. Many new young players were developed to take center stage in Team Melli. Several players joined the professional leagues in Europe.
Regardless of Iran's results in World Cup 2006, Team Melli is cause for celebration! We have attained a record level of progress in our soccer. However, even the most faithful, inside and outside Iran, who believes Iran has a chance to advance to second round, describes such an event as a “surprise”. Most outsiders, including Scolari, Portugal's brilliant coach who has led Brazil to one of her 5 World Cup championships, do not hold much account for Iran's chances of advancement.
… And this story is different. Let it be told, and make no mistake about it, Iran WILL qualify for the second round, ….and oh, by the way, don't be surprised if neither Portugal or Mexico make it past the first round!
World Cup 2002, showed that the gap between international teams, has not only narrowed, but that the world ranking order is no longer a safe haven for any team. Many top teams performed surprisingly below expectations. For example, France did not advance to the second round. Portugal, which in this tournament, is in Group D with Iran, also did not make it to the second round. Mexico, which plays its first game with us, lost in the second round of World Cup 2002, and did not advance. In fact, World Cup 2002, was the rise of Asian powers S. Korea and Japan. Turkey, while not quite an Asian team, also shone in World Cup 2002.
Since WC2002, one can easily see the unpredictability of national teams. For example Greece who was Europe's champion (wining the final game against Portugal) did not even make it to the World Cup 2006.
Granted, we are not playing the same WC2002 Portugal, but then on a good day for Iranians, and a bad day for Figo and Ronaldo, you will find that Portugal is no so mighty. And what seems to be the fact, is that Team Melli players have an unfettered level of confidence that they are capable of beating any team.
On the other hand, Mexico is our biggest opportunity. Given that we play Mexico first, our performance and result in this match will see us into the second round. Branko will probably start the game cautiously, playing both Yahya Gol-Mohammadi, and Bakhtiar-zadeh simultaneously, using one of them in the same position that he had previously used Alavi. In the first half, he will order his players to control the tempo of the game, while allowing the Mexicans to spend some energy.
In the second half, Branko will bring on his top guns to put pressure on Mexico's defense. Mexico's defense is its weakest link. Branko will count on Mahdavi-Kia's fast runs, Karimi's destructive moves, and Zandi's slick passes to initiate an all-front assault on Mexico's defense. Daei, the best known Iranian player, will be used to occupy Mexico's defense, while Hashemian cuts around to break loose to the goal.
After the 90 minutes is over, Mexican's won't know quite what hit them, and it will take them some time for this to sink in….and then it's too late! This will cause Mexico to play waveringly against Angola in their second game, while Iran will play with an ever-increased confidence against Portugal. Control Portugal's middle line and you'll control the game! Branko, no doubt, has special plans for this game. Don't be surprised if Mahdavikia plays in the same position as he plays in Hamburg in this game to keep Ronaldo in check. Also, Branko might play the young Teymoorian to run and put pressure on players such as Figo.
Yes, indeed! Iran has all the ingredients for success. Even though it is only Iran's third appearance in World Cup finals, she qualified convincingly and with ease. Team Melli has six key players who have played in Europe, five of which have played in Bundesliga. They are familiar with the ambiance. Who do you think the German crowd is going to cheer for in the game against Mexico? Team Melli players playing in Germany see Germany as their second home. They will have a much better mindset playing in Germany than many other teams.
None of Iran's opponents consider Iran's power in par with theirs. Their mismatch of expectation, and reality translates into unpreparedness. On the other hand, Iran has shown that it plays well when it plays against big names.
Iran has inarguably, the best team in its history. This is a team that has been in the making for the past 4 years. These same players (more or less) are used to playing with each other for a long time. Branko has selected his men carefully to create a “Dream Team”; a team with proven experience, and exuberant youth. One look at this team, speaks volume of Branko's intentions, and his level of confidence. The depth in attack-minded players shows that Branko is not just going to sit back and take it on the chin. Something tells me that Branko intends to take it to the other team, and dictate the game plan.
Finally, the player's frame of mind is surely affected by the political events. Many worldwide private and political figures and organizations have unfairly called for boycotting Iran from WC2006. Team Melli players will take to the field with an added determination to show to the world that this nation is confident, and capable of achieving success despite overwhelming adversities. The players are determined to give a crushing defeat to those who undermine, and miscalculate. Team Melli is not just there to prove that it deserves to be present at WC2006; it is there to prove that the future belongs to Iran.
No matter where you are at the time, weather you are in the stadium, or watching the game from your TV, you will witness a history in the making. Be prepared for tears of joy. You can sense it, you can feel it, and you can see it: This team has “SUCCESS” written all over it.