Queiroz turns focus to Iraq decider after Iran goes through
After helping guide the Iran, dubbed Team Melli, through to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Round of 16, head coach Carlos Queiroz reiterated just how important his side’s final group stage game against Iraq will be for his side.
Saturday’s 2-0 win over Vietnam, along with Iraq’s later defeat of Yemen, saw Iran — which has now won its opening two games at the AFC Asian Cup for the third tournament in a row — assure themselves of a place in the knockout phase, the-afc. com reported.
While Wednesday’s fixture will undoubtedly rekindle memories of Iraq’s sensational quarterfinal victory over the Iranians at the AFC Asian Cup’s last edition, it will also determine which side would finish top of Group D, a fact not lost on Queiroz.
“In football, the next game is always the most important one, and the match against Iraq is a crucial one for us,” declared the Portuguese tactician.
“Everything we do will now revolve around the match against Iraq, as we need to be fully focused to play against them. Both teams will be fighting to finish first in the group, as well as [maintaining] their reputation.
“We will of course try everything we can to be better than them.”
Star striker Sardar Azmoun scored twice against Vietnam to take his tournament tally to three on a day when Iran registered a record ninth successive AFC Asian Cup group stage victory.
While acknowledging Azmoun’s impressive display, Queiroz was, however, at pains to point out how crucial he believes his entire squad will be if Iran is to harbor any ambitions of snaring its first AFC Asian Cup title since 1976.
“I believe that you need to have your entire squad ready to make a contribution at any moment,” he said.
“You can win games with starting lineups, but you win championships with squads. My duty as a coach is to keep the 23 players positive and with a constructive attitude.”
Meanwhile, Vietnam head coach Park Hang-seo admitted that although the Southeast Asians struggled against Iran, he is not giving up on the hope that his side will still make it through to the Round of 16.
“Today, we saw that Iran were much stronger than us, it was very difficult for us to compete with them,” he said.
“It is not easy to achieve the high level required [at the AFC Asian Cup] in such a short period. However, this competition is a great experience, my team is getting better and their future is a bright one.
“I think it will not be easy to qualify for the next round by our own efforts as we can only get a maximum of three points. But we are going to do our absolute best and we really hope to get three points in the next match.”
Better a champion than a top scorer
Following his side’s match against Vietnam, Azmoun shunned suggestions that he is on track to becoming the top scorer in the tournament, insisting instead that he will always put the aspirations of his team first.
The Rubin Kazan forward insisted he has no interest in personal accolades as he seeks to help Iran secure its first Continental title since 1976.
“I’m pleased with the team’s performance, not with my own goals,” he said.
“It’s not important to me who scores and who does not score, the team’s success is much more significant to me. I certainly do not think about such matters as becoming top scorer.”
“Scoring is great, as you get what you have worked for. I am grateful that I score, however it’s better to be the champion of the tournament rather than being the top scorer.”
Better against stronger opponents
Commenting on his side’s match against Iran, Iraq’s coach Srecko Katanec said his team tends to play better football against stronger opponents.
“You can’t compare the match we had with Vietnam and against Yemen. Vietnam played very fluid football for the first 45 minutes and we came out on top. Against Yemen, were a little complacent and maybe that’s why we need to play a strong team, on paper, like Iran.
“Maybe I’ll give chances for the other players in the next game. We will see. I can’t say for sure what my tactics will be against Iran, maybe three at the back, four or even five.”
Iraq was made to sweat a little against Yemen — its second group stage match — in the opening minutes of the game but took control shortly before taking a comfortable 2-0 lead at half-time.
Although Katanec’s men found it hard to break down their opponents in the second half, the third goal eventually arrived late in the game and the Slovenian was pleased with his team’s performance.
Relishing Iran meeting
Ahead their match against Iran, midfielder Bashar Resan Bonyan proclaimed Iraq is in a perfect place.
Now looking forward to leading Iraq’s attack against his Persepolis teammate in the Iran goalmouth — Alireza Beiranvand, Resan said, “We will put our two past matches behind us and focus on the final match against Iran. The winners will top the group and potentially have an easier path in the knockout stage.
“Iran are the top-ranked Asian side, and favorites to reach the final. It will be a difficult match. Iran are great, but we are also a quality team with a lot of young talent in our ranks,” said Resan.
With an average squad age of 24, Resan believed Katanec is spoilt for choice ahead of the Iran showdown.
“The coaching staff will have watched Iran’s two matches and will put together the best lineup and tactics for the match.
“There is a lot of competition within the team for starting spots, but we play as a unit. At the end of the day, all of us are capable of performing for the team.
“The coach decided who started against Vietnam and against Yemen based on his tactics for the match, and in the third match against Iran, it will be the same.”
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz GETTY IMAGES