The first game always the most difficult, says Queiroz
Abu Dhabi: Carlos Queiroz will lead tournament favourites the Islamic Republic of Iran into the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 having instructed his players to focus on winning one game at a time as the nation aims to end a 43-year drought at the Continental championship.
The Portuguese coach leads a squad that leans heavily on the one that represented the country at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia in the summer, with 18 of the players who impressed against Morocco, Spain and Portugal slated to make the trip to the UAE.
But while the strength in depth of Queiroz’s squad has the Iranians marked out as one of the nations fancied to win the title, the former Real Madrid coach claims his focus is solely on his side’s opening game against Yemen on January 7 in Abu Dhabi.
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“It’s the first game and there are no small teams in the first game,” Queiroz told the-AFC.com. “Everyone’s hopes are open and the challenge is in front of everybody in the first game.
“The first game is always the most difficult game in these kind of competitions because it’s everything for the winner and almost nothing for the loser in a short competition of three games. It is a game we need to win, like always. It’s a crucial game.”
Iran go into the clash as Asia’s No. 1 ranked side while Yemen are 26th in Asia and 135th in the world, but Queiroz is wary of the threat posed by Jan Kocian’s team and knows his players must be fully focused on the task at hand.
“I was checking the results of the Iran national team in different competitions, at under 17s, under 20s, and never has Iran beaten Yemen in any official competition,” he said. “There’s a reason for that: Yemen might draw or lose, but Yemen are a tough team to beat.
“When the game starts against Yemen, we need to get rid of the frustrations we have around the team and focus on ourselves. It’s about the 11 boys on the pitch that start the game against the Yemen team. It’s about the coaching staff, it’s about ourselves and we need to go for it.
“We cannot start a game like this in the Asian Cup and think about anything else. It’s 90 minutes to play for the people, 90 minutes to play for the joy and happiness and pride of Iran.”
Iran have not won the AFC Asian Cup since the third of three consecutive titles in 1976, but the country remains one of the Continent’s strongest, with Queiroz leading the nation to back-to-back appearances at the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 2014 and 2018.
And although the country’s status among the elite of Asian football is undisputed, the 65-year-old continues to warn his players against complacency.
“Of course, it is well known and recognised and well appreciated that the Iran national team have made fantastic progress in terms of attitude, organisation and discipline but the biggest mistake that happens around teams is that when you have good moments some people think that it’s enough, that we don't need to do anything more,” he said.
“They have the wrong perceptions that the other competitors are just sitting at home and watching us, but this is a completely wrong impression because Qatar is working hard, UAE, Saudi Arabia.
“They’re working harder because they saw the progress of Iran and they have put huge efforts into coming from behind. Palestine, all these teams, Vietnam. People think this competition is easy, but Vietnam have made fantastic progress over the last few years. They have a great mood in this moment because they have just won an important competition in Southeast Asia.
“We cannot follow on this track, where some people think that things are easy for us. It’s the opposite, because the people who want to think things are easy in football are just trying to jeopardise our hopes. We will be humble, respect all of our opponents and try to do our best.”
With that in mind, Queiroz stresses that it is Yemen rather than who Iran might face at any other stage of the tournament – including the final in Abu Dhabi on February 1 - is uppermost in his mind.
“In these kind of competitions there is no tomorrow if we don’t win the present and first of all our Asian Cup final is against Yemen,” he said. “I don’t care about anything else around us.
“And when we finish the game against Yemen, then it’s time to think about Vietnam and after that Iraq. For the moment I want to develop this kind of instinct in my team, to keep all of our energy so that it explodes in the 90 minutes against Yemen. All the rest doesn’t count for us.”
Photos: FIFA via Getty Images, AFC
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