Iran play down favourites role ahead of emotional opener against Palestine

January 13 – Three-time Asian champions Iran have downplayed their heavyweight status ahead of their Group C opener against Palestine, arguing that “every game will be a final”. 

Both sides are at a crossroads with Iran seeking to rebuild after the 2022 World Cup and Palestine playing as a symbol of hope amid the war in Gaza that will eventually need a different and more fundamental rebuilding.

The Iranians hold the clear tags of favourites in their first-ever meeting at the Asian Cup.

Iran went unbeaten in 2023 and prepared for the Asian Cup with a camp on the resort and consumer’s paradise of Iran’s Kish Island.

The team achieved friendly victories against both Burkina Faso and Indonesia. As ever, expectations around the team are high and on the eve of the finals manager Amir Ghalenoei believes that his team are ready to deliver but argues that every single match will represent a final.

“Palestine have a good defensive structure and are hard-working,” said Ghalenoei at a news conference.

“They had good results in their last friendlies. Every match for us will be like a final match. All the players have the responsibility for their people and their country and they will try their best on the field to have a good performance and bring honour to our country. I asked them to be united and have to have their best performance. In the last training camps, they did their best. As I said earlier, every match will be like a final for us.”

Iran will also face the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong in Group C.

Ghalenoei returns to the Asian Cup for the first time since 2007 when Iran were eliminated in the last eight. Iran’s fans received his appointment as underwhelming and the relationship between the supporters and the national team has cooled down considerably since the World Cup when political matters at home overshadowed Iran’s campaign in Qatar.

“That Asian Cup (in 2007) is not comparable with this Asian Cup because Asian football improved and developed a lot,” commented Ghalenoei.

“In the last World Cup, three teams from Asia qualified to the next round.  We are the Iranian team with good international players and good players from our league We are doing our best to have our best performance in the tournament.”

Iran might start without their trusted goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, but Ghalenoei confirmed that Sardar Azmoun is match fit. The Roma striker played at U-23 level against Palestine in 2016.

Palestine coach Makram Daboub showered his opponents with praise.

He said: “Iran are one of the best teams in the continent. They have a lot of top players and are a talented group. It’s between them, Korea Republic and Japan for the title in my opinion. Recently we played very well against Australia, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia, so in one match, we fancy our chances, and we can dream of going through to the next round.”

The Tunisian manager and his players play this Asian Cup against the backdrop of war in Gaza, but Daboub knows that his players are used to deal with challenges as they seek to reach the last sixteen of the tournament for he first time.

“The difficulties are nothing new for us,” said Daboud.

“I have been in Palestine for 13 years, but the last two years have been very difficult for us, but we tried to make up for the lack of domestic football through training camps in Algeria and Saudi Arabia, but the challenge is that the players did not have enough match practice, but we are ready and we will do our best to bring joy for our people.”

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1711671951labto1711671951ofdlr1711671951owedi1711671951sni@i1711671951tnuk.1711671951ardni1711671951mas1711671951




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