Iran goes against North Korea with notable absence
of skipper Ali Daei
March 30, 2005
The Iranian nation patiently waited for its Eidi
and on Friday March 25, Team Melli duely delivered.
In a sparkling
performance longly awaited by many from this very gifted team,
the stalemate witnessed during the Asian Cup of last summer was
by a vibrant performance in which both teams went for the win
- with Japan's poor team work, coupled with an excellent performance
by the Iranian defenders and two killer blows dealt by Vahid
a player who returned to the national team fold only as late
as September 2004, after a three-year absence due to his on-going
dispute with Iranian Football Federation officials, swaying
the tie in Iran's side.
A capacity Azadi crowd ensured that the
team recieved all necessary moral support, even going as far
as stepping up the level of vocal support after Japan's temporary
equaliser, courtesy of Takashi Fukunishi twenty minutes into
second half, in the Iranian defense's only blunder of the game.
No sooner were the people of Tehran out in the streets to celebrate
that Team Melli embarked on a flight to Beijing, where a couple
of days were spent training on a turf similar to the artificial
one used in the Kim Il Sung National Stadium in Pyongyang. Overlooked
by a giant portrait of its namesake, the late Stalinist ruler
of North Korea and creator of the Juche cult, the stadium can hold
up to 70,000 fans, most of which will be as passionate as the
Wednesday's game is played at the curious local time of 15:35,
which makes many wonder if the North Korean authorities chose
kick off to allay the risks of a blackout to the stadium lighting
system, in a country known for its frequent energy crises >>> Listen
to live broadcast
Iran goes into the game with only one notable absence with respect
to the team that faced Japan, that of skipper Ali Daei, who was
subbed out at the end of the first half due to injury. Asian Player
of the Year Ali Karimi will probably take his place, vacating his
own central midfield position to Fereydoun Zandi, who is getting
more and more into Team Melli schemes, despite his lack of adequately
This will be a litmus test for a team that will
soon have to be used to playing without its landmark captain
of many years, who, after a lot of pressure and concern regarding
his declining fitness and quality of play, is probably close
retiring from National Team football.
While North Korea is arguably the most reclusive and isolated
country in the world, its football history is not to be coughed
at. Its entrance into the map of notable footballing countries
stretches back to 1966, when an unknown dentist called Pak doo
Ik scored the winning goal of a famous 2-1 victory against giants
Italy in the World Cup then taking place in England.
North Korea eventually lost out to Portugal in the later rounds
of the tournament, in a game that heralded the start of Portuguese
legend Eusebio's fame, thanks to a brilliant performance that helped
Portugal overcome a 0-3 deficit to win the game 5-3. Ever since
this momentous World Cup appearance, North Korea has been something
of a hidden dragon of Asian football, with upsets being it's speciality.
After a lacklustre performance in the 2004 Asian Cup qualifiers,
where Iran beat North Korea twice (although the Tehran leg was
marred by a firecracker incident that lead the North Korea team
to walk off the pitch and hence the match awarded to Iran), the
Far East team sprung back into course with a good performance
in the preliminary round of the World Cup 2006 qualifiers, where
beat group favourites UAE to the top, and only qualifying spot
for the next round.
North Korea now meets Iran after two close
defeats to Japan and Bahrain, in both of which North Korea
had a good chance of levelling or even winning the game. As many
Team Melli players repetedly declared, it is not an opponent
to be taken
lightly, although an echo of the dazzling performance seen
Japan will be probably more than enough to see off the Korean
opponent and firmly establish Iran in the driving seat for
World Cup spot.
Given the performance we all saw and admired
in Azadi, this is not a far fetched prospect and, combined
draw in the other group game, Japan-Bahrain, the dream of
an early Iran lead in the group table and a firm presence in the
that are granted automatic access to a ticket to Germany
very well become a reality in a few hours time.
Siavush Randjbar-Daemi is a commentator on Middle Eastern
affairs in Italy and staff member of Persianfootball.com.