January 22 – On the eve of Iran’s final group game with the United Arab Emirates, manager Amir Ghalenoei has lashed out at the criticism of his team’s performances and claimed that he has no issues with star striker Sardar Azmoun, who has not played a single minute in the tournament yet.
With two victories from two, Team Melli guaranteed their spot in the last 16 of the Asian Cup with a match to spare, but Ghalenoei has been on the defensive after widespread criticism over Iran’s underwhelming 1-0 victory against Hong Kong, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament.
“Some of the criticism was not criticism, but disrespectful,” said Ghalenoei at a news conference.
“We analyzed our match against Hong Kong, we checked all the statistics from the AFC, and based on the statistics, our performance against Hong Kong was not bad. We had over 500 passes and we had almost 70% possession of the game. Our passing accuracy was not very good, and we also gave some opportunities to the opponent, but these opportunities came from the mistakes of our players.”
“We were not accurate in the final pass, but we haven’t been treated fairly, for the amount of criticism we get. It wasn’t the greatest performance. We had sixteen shots on the goal and this was not easy. Please, be kinder to us.”
“It is not criticism, some people are trying to destroy us. The Saudis were celebrating after the win against Kyrgyz, but we were attacked and not allowed to celebrate our progress. There is a difference here.”
After the Hong Kong match, Ghalenoei had also gone off script over what he said is a lack of support for the team, which enjoyed great popularity during the era of Carlos Queiroz, who led Iran to three consecutive World Cups but failed to win the Asian Cup. “For eight years, they spent so much money on this team, gave them so many facilities, like the best camps. Everyone supported them, even the president. Either, they were not brave enough to criticise Queiroz or they want to bring this team down,” said Ghalenoei.
On Tuesday, Iran take on the UAE in their final group match with top spot on the line. AS Roma forward Azmoun has not played a single minute in the tournament, which suggests that Ghalenoei doesn’t want to show his hand just yet or that the team is fractured. He first seemed to express his disappointment with Azmoun before correcting his statement, saying that “I am not dissatisfied with Sardar, my problem is that he was released late by AS Roma.”
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