As the month during which the Iranian national football team qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, June 2013 will remain imprinted on the minds of the Iranian football community for many years to come. After missing out on South Africa 2010, Carlos Queiroz’s charges now find themselves at the forefront of the Asian game once again.
Aside from the coveted ticket for Brazil 2014, Team Melli have received another reward for last month’s fine qualifying results, namely a leap of 15 places in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, which sees them move up to 52nd place overall and fourth in the Asian Zone.
The excellent run of wins recorded by Iran in June began in Doha, where a Reza Ghoochannejhad strike was enough to overcome Qatar. The Iranians subsequently demolished Lebanon 4-0 in Tehran, with Ghoochannejhad, Mohammad-Reza Khalatbari and captain Javad Nekounam grabbing the goals.
Their biggest result in June was undoubtedly the win over Korea Republic in Ulsan. Ghoochannejhad was again on the scoresheet, notching his fifth and most important international goal to date, propelling Iran above the Koreans to the top of Group A with 16 points, and sealing their qualification for Brazil 2014 in the process.
These triumphs spurred the Asian side to reach their highest ranking slot of the year, after ending 2012 in 59th place and sitting in 67th this time last year.
Fans in raptures
Truth be told, Iran did not enjoy the greatest of starts to the final round of qualifying for Brazil 2014, picking up just four points from their first three matches, which featured a victory over Uzbekistan, a draw with Qatar and a defeat by Lebanon.
Following a win over Korea Republic and a loss to Uzbekistan, they stepped up a gear at just the right time, racking up three successive victories to clinch a place at the FIFA World Cup for the fourth time in the nation’s history.
In the capital city of Tehran and in other cities around Iran, the final whistle of the match against Korea Republic was met with great joy and exuberant celebrations. Queiroz, the Portuguese coach who has been in charge since 2011, was touched to witness the widespread delight generated by the exploits of his players.
Looking back at Iran’s qualifying campaign, he remarked: “The most important thing is where you finish in the race, not how you start it. We’ve accomplished something that not just any team would be capable of. I’d like to thank my players for all their efforts during qualification, as well as the Iranian FA.”
Festivities intensified with the heroes’ arrival in Tehran, where they were met at Azadi Stadium by Mohammed Abbassi, Minister for Sport and Youth, and numerous officials from the Iranian Football Association, including its President, Ali Kafashian, as well as several thousand supporters.
The general merriment did not prevent Queiroz from keeping his feet on the ground. “I want to thank everyone who helped us during this adventure. We now have to begin to prepare for the World Cup,” he said.
The 60-year-old has already started said preparations, travelling to Brazil for two weeks at the end of June in order to arrange his team’s accommodation and training facilities for next year. Taking part in FIFA’s flagship tournament in 2014 will likely lead to Team Melli making even further progress up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.