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Skocic aiming to get Team Melli back on track


Tehran: IR Iran have been a mainstay at the FIFA World Cup in recent years. With Carlos Queiroz at the helm, Team Melli graced Brazil 2014 and were the first Asian side to secure a berth at Russia 2018. And while they failed to go beyond the group stage in the latter tournament, they had the consolation of impressive performances there against Portugal, Spain and Morocco.

After Queiroz’s departure, the country’s football federation turned to Marc Wilmots, but after some disappointing results in the current round of Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023, the Belgian was replaced.

The new man at the helm is Croatian Dragan Skocic, who spoke with FIFA.com about his appointment and the task ahead.

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"Being in charge of IR Iran is a great honour. My commitment towards the 80 million Iranians who support their national team is huge. I’m ready for this project and am looking forward to it with immense determination."

A look at Skocic’s resume reveals that this is his first time in charge of a national team, the 51-year-old having spent all of his coaching career at clubs in Croatia and the Gulf, such as Al Araby in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia’s Al Nasr. Despite his lack of national team experience, he is well aware of the task awaiting ahead.

"In contrast to a club, working with a national team allows you to choose from a large pool of players to instil your philosophy, although the downside is that you always have limited time to implement your ideas."

Staying in the race

IR Iran suffered two defeats – against Iraq and Bahrain – in their opening four games in the Asian Qualifiers. Given the quality of their squad, the team’s performance was not considered good enough. So how does the new incumbent plan to get them back on track?

"We’ll shortly be carrying out a detailed analysis of our team and those of our opponents as well. We’ll also be looking into new players who might join the squad. I have a clear idea of what’s required to improve our performances."

Those two defeats have Team Melli currently occupying third place in Group C, a position that would not take them into the final qualifying round. Asked about the very real danger of early elimination, Skocic said: "Our current position is bad, but we’re not yet despairing. Three of our remaining four games will be at home, where we’ll have massive support from our fans. I also believe we have a quality group of players, which is why I’m optimistic."

Help from the schedule

Skocic’s side do indeed have grounds for optimism. Their next two fixtures will be against Hong Kong and Cambodia, who on paper at least, should be beatable. They will then host current group frontrunners Bahrain and Iraq, which should give them a shot at claiming one of the group’s two qualifying spots in the next round.

"We have to be professional and respect all the teams, including Cambodia and Hong Kong."

IR Iran have reached the FIFA World Cup on five occasions. After back-to-back appearances in 2014 and 2018, the aim now is to secure a third consecutive participation for the first time.

"We’ve promised the people of Iran that we’ll go back to the World Cup, and we’ll do our utmost to fulfil that promise."

Sources: FIFA.com, AFC

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