Alireza Rafieipor: I am going back a champion
Taipei: Playing in his first tournament as a member of Islamic Republic of Iran’s national futsal team, Alireza Rafieipor helped his teammates defeat Japan 4-0 in the AFC Futsal Championship 2018 final on Sunday.
While many of Iran’s celebrated futsal stars have a long list of continental honours, 24-year-old Alireza Rafieipor’s journey as a national team player began in Taipei two weeks ago and ended on Sunday night as an Asian champion for the first time.
The Sherkat Melli Haffari player was part of the side that lifted the AFC Futsal Championship title for the 12th time, but for the man from Behbahan city, it was extra special.
“I am really thankful and, I must say, more than happy to be champion because this tournament marked my first time joining the national team,” he said.
“I am going home to my city Behbahan as a champion!”
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Despite entering the match at Xinzhuang Gymnasium as heavy favourites in their 13th appearance in the tournament climax, IR Iran were put under pressure for much of the first half by a Japan side that had defeated them in the 2014 final in Vietnam.
In fact, for much of the opening 20 minutes, the Samurai Five had the bulk of the opportunities but their wastefulness in front of goal came back to haunt them, as captain Ali Hassanzadeh’s goal just before the interval proved the catalyst for the Iranians to take control, adding three more in the second half.
“Going into the match, I was very comfortable and confident because I know that Iran is currently playing at a higher level than all other teams in futsal,” added Rafieipor.
“Yes, it was a little bit difficult at first in the game, but I was 100 percent confident that we would pull through and score the goals we needed to win the trophy.”
Having added another trophy to their collection, Iran will now fix their eyes on preparing for the 2020 edition of the tournament, a FIFA Futsal World Cup qualifier, and a chance to impress again on the world stage after their third place finish at the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup.
“This victory tonight is just the starting point for us,” said Rafieipor.
“From now we are focused on 2020. We are number three in the world and everyone is expecting us to get even better.”