IR Iran's Jahanbakhsh dreaming of glory
Alkmaar: The Islamic Republic of Iran has long been a powerhouse nation in Asia, but remarkably it’s been 42 years since Team Melli won the AFC Asian Cup, winning the last of their three titles on home soil in 1976.
As the number one ranked team in Asia, expectations are high in Iran that 2019 might be the year that Carlos Queiroz’s side lifts high the continent’s biggest prize.
One of the players hoping to return his country to the top of Asia is Alireza Jahanbakhsh, and the-AFC.com recently spoke to the Netherlands-based forward to get his thoughts on the tournament ahead of the upcoming AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Official Draw.
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The AFC Asian Cup 2019 is now only just over eight months away – how much are you looking forward to playing in that tournament?
Of course it’s really important, after the World Cup it’s the biggest tournament for our country and for the people who follow football in Iran. I’m really looking forward to this tournament because last time, unfortunately, we went out on penalties and that wasn’t something that we wanted.
But this time we have a better team, we have a better situation and hopefully we can have a better experience and we can do something extra to make Iranian people happy.
In the last few years we’ve been first in Asia and now is the time, after the World Cup, that we want to show the Iranian quality, why we are first in the FIFA rankings and why we were the first from Asia to qualify for the World Cup.
The AFC Asian Cup 2019 Official Draw will be held on May 4 in Dubai – are there any teams you are hoping to avoid or any teams you would like to play against?
It’s difficult to say because every team in Asia is improving, they just want to get better and better and now they have several months to prepare themselves for the Asian Cup. So it’s difficult to pick this team or that team, we just go there and first we see which teams we have to play against.
On the other hand, the easiest is always the best, but in my opinion there is no easy team in the Asian Cup, because as I said all the teams are trying to grow up, to get better and better. They bring in new coaches from Europe to [help them] develop, so it’s not that easy.
How determined is this team to win the competition for the first time since 1976 and what would it mean to the people of Iran?
Of course, in the last couple of years we’ve been number one in Asia and that means a lot for Iranian fans. The Asian Cup is a big tournament for football fans back in Iran and they’re really looking forward to it. With the upcoming games we have for preparation for the World Cup – and the three games we’re going to play at the World Cup – that gives us even more experience, facing the best teams in the world to get ready for having a good Asian Cup.
It’s been a long time since we’ve been champions of Asia, so hopefully this time with such a team and such a coach we can make this dream come true. There are also some really good teams in Asia that are always favourites to become champions, so it’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to do our best to go as far as possible and achieve a really nice result for the Iranian people, because they really deserve it.
As the number one team in Asia, is there pressure to live up to that mantle and do you think it might motivate the other teams when they play Iran?
Yeah for sure, being number one in Asia and being the second team (in the world) to qualify for the World Cup adds pressure, and the expectations from the Iranian fans will of course be higher. For the World Cup they’re already talking about going to the next round, so imagine how it feels and how they expect us to perform at the Asian Cup.
There is always pressure on the national team. This will be a positive pressure though, the people really want to cheer for us, to help us make some history again.
It’s important for us (to do well), but we have to handle the pressure and just be calm and do our thing as we did in qualification for the World Cup, and as we’ve been doing the last couple of years. But the other sides will have extra motivation to beat the number one team in Asia. So we won’t have any easy games.
Finally, this is the first time the AFC Asian Cup will have 24 teams, and we will see some nations like Kyrgyz Republic, Yemen and the Philippines play at the tournament for the first time. How will that make it different and do you think this is a good thing for Asian football?
It’s nice for the teams which are having a bigger opportunity to make it to the tournament and they have more chance to join the other teams for the Asian Cup.
There will always be discussion about the Asian Cup or World Cup having more teams, it will always be there, but it’s nicer for the teams that now have a chance to make the tournament.
Photos: Getty Images
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