Iran’s win a win for Asia

Paul Williams Columnist

By Paul Williams, Paul Williams is a Roar Expert

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    As far as opening games go, it may not have been as bad (at least where the score is concerned) as their 8-0 loss to Germany in 2002, but Saudi Arabia’s listless opening day performance against an average Russia was about as bad as it got.

    The Gulf nation surprised many by even making the World Cup, and their performance on day one shows just what an exceptional job Bert van Marwijk did to shape this team into a somewhat competitive unit.

    Click here to re-live The Roar’s live blog of all the action between Iran and Morocco.

    The result saw an endless stream of people and pundits line up to smash Asian football, but truth be told this Saudi side were never going to be the flag bearers for the continent at the World Cup.

    And having sat through a match between two low-ranked nations, many were also quick to bemoan the upcoming expansion to 48 teams in 2026, lest smaller nations get their chance to appear on the world stage.

    With the line-up for day two including Egypt versus Uruguay and Spain versus Portugal, featuring all of the superstars these ‘Eurosnob’ (can you use that term when it comes to international football?) fans would rather see, it’s unlikely the match between Morocco and Iran would’ve got the juices flowing for many neutrals.

    But for me this match epitomised the spirit of the World Cup, and why it’s not just a tournament of the top 32 nations in the world, but a representation of teams from all corners of the globe.

    Ehsan Haji Safi

    Ehsan Haji Safi of IR Iran national team celebrates his goal (Photo by Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

    Neither side will win this year’s World Cup, which for some is reason enough to immediately tune out, but for both appearing at football global showpiece means so much more. This is Morocco’s first appearance in 20 years, while it’s the first time Iran has appeared in successive tournaments for the first time in their history.

    Before the game both sets of fans would’ve enjoyed the same nervous anticipation that comes with the opening game of a tournament, knowing they needed to win if they were a chance of knocking Spain or Portugal out of the top two.

    Ninety minutes later their respective emotions couldn’t be starker.

    Iranians were dancing in the stands in St Petersburg and in the streets in Tehran after a last minute own-goal from Moroccan striker Aziz Bouhaddouz handed an historic win to Team Melli. The sheer ecstasy and joy was written all over the faces of the players, and in particular coach Carlos Queiroz.

    World Cup wins have been few and far between for Iran. In 12 previous matches they’d won just once, a memorable 2-1 win over USA in 1998. This is a team Queiroz has built and moulded over his seven years in charge. He deserved a World Cup victory with his team, and the relief and joy was there for all to see after the match.

    The post-match interviewer tried valiantly to get him to comment on the next match against Spain, but he was having none of it. He ‘didn’t care’ at that point, he wanted to enjoy and savour the moment. And rightly so. He has confirmed his legend status in the central Asian nation.

    For their part the players lapped up the celebrations with the thousands of Iranians in the stands, not wanting the moment to end. While one TV pundit condescendingly suggested they were going over the top, claiming they were “celebrating like they’ve won the World Cup”, for the players it must have felt like they had.

    For teams such as Iran, playing at the World Cup is a rare experience. Winning a game is even rarer.

    And that is the beauty of the World Cup. Sure the tail end of the competition is about the very elite, pitting the best against the best, but the group stages are about more than that. The group stages are a celebration of the diversity football. There’s almost a purity to it that we don’t get a lot in football these days.

    And after the opening day humiliation of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s win was a desperately needed one for Asian football. The reputation of football in this part of the world copped a battering after Brazil, where none of the four teams managed to win a game, and it could ill-afford another poor tournament.

    Iran’s win finally stopped the bleeding, being the first win for an Asian team at the World Cup since Japan’s 3-1 win over Denmark in South Africa.

    And just as I was jumping for joy in the early hours of Saturday morning when the ball hit the back of the net, so too would’ve AFC officials…well, those that actually care about the game anyway.

    This wasn’t just a victory for Iran, it was a victory for Asia.

    Paul Williams
    Paul Williams

    Paul Williams is an Adelaide-based football writer. Specialising in Asian football, he writes about the beautiful game for a host of publications including SBS The World Game, FourFourTwo Singapore and Al Jazeera, and is a regular guest on the Daily Football Show. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulWilliams_85.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • June 19th 2018 @ 7:55am
      bwm said | June 19th 2018 @ 7:55am | ! Report

      Nice article. We all know so much sport is tangled in money & hype. Long may the WC continue. However, its a shame the matches are now being sold to a paid subscriber base. Is this the new “spirit of fifa”, of football”? Trading inclusion for exclusion. If people can’t see the sport it loses its accessibility, one of the things that made it a global phenomenon. I no longer watch the Olympic Games for similar reasons. Used to watch basketball with my son, but not any more. When a national team plays, which the public have already supported via their tax dollars, the games should be freely available to all at no cost.

      • June 19th 2018 @ 10:45am
        Lionheart said | June 19th 2018 @ 10:45am | ! Report

        Our national team games are available at SBS for all to view at no cost.

        • June 19th 2018 @ 12:37pm
          bwm said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

          You are right about that, my mistake.
          I hope it stays that way.

          The point I was trying to make is that fifa should be very protective of it’s audience.
          If their goal is to grow and expand world football, and use as a catalyst of sorts, to help bring about economic increase & political stability to poorer nations (which I hope I’m not deluded about), then the “world” game itself cannot be allowed to be owned by business, in the way that the A League, or EPL currently are.

          There is plenty of money exchanged via advertising options without restricting access to only paid-up subscribers. I understand there is a balance but I think the scales need adjusting.

    • June 19th 2018 @ 8:31am
      AGO74 said | June 19th 2018 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      I didn’t see the game but it appears as though Iran were somewhat fortunate to win with Morocco creating the better chances.

      We are all competitors in Asia and we compete hard against those teams but come the World Cup I hope those same competitors do well (except for Saudi Arabia – I just have a general problem with that side. I’d have much preferred to cheer on Syria or Iraq vs Russia rather than Saudis).

      For that reason, watching Korea last night was desperately disappointing. Sweden are in my view an average team and quite beatable but Korea lined up with ultra defensive tactics and got rightly punished for it in the end.

      The pity is that they are a much better team than this and have access to arguably the best player in the confederation in Son Heung Min. You normally take two matches to get knocked out of a tournament but with Sweden and Mexico now with opening day wins and a wounded Germany eager to inflict damage Koreas tournament is as good as over after 1 match.

      As a general comment I too tend to enjoy the group stages for reasons similar to what author notes.

      • June 19th 2018 @ 10:44am
        Kris said | June 19th 2018 @ 10:44am | ! Report

        “Sweden are in my view an average team and quite beatable”

        Qualifying ahead of the Netherlands and then beating in Italy in a play-off didn’t impress you?

        • June 19th 2018 @ 11:28am
          AGO74 said | June 19th 2018 @ 11:28am | ! Report

          I get your comment though The Netherlands have been a rabble since 2014 World Cup – they couldn’t even qualify for 24 team Euro’s.. Sweden are organised and hard to break down but that’s about it really. They are blunt in attack which is therefore why I think that Korea could have been more assertive.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 19th 2018 @ 11:53am
        At work said | June 19th 2018 @ 11:53am | ! Report

        I prefer the group stages l, but for a different reason.
        Once the knockout rounds kickoff I start to dread the end of the cup is drawing near.

    • June 19th 2018 @ 12:28pm
      Negar said | June 19th 2018 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

      Hello! You go know that Bert van Marwijk is Australia’s coach….? I think you were referring to Iran!

      • June 19th 2018 @ 6:15pm
        Lionheart said | June 19th 2018 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

        I think he was referring to Bert VM when he coached Saudi, through the qualifiers before Ange resigned.

    • June 19th 2018 @ 9:01pm
      POURIA said | June 19th 2018 @ 9:01pm | ! Report

      Very true…good article

    • June 19th 2018 @ 9:26pm
      MQ said | June 19th 2018 @ 9:26pm | ! Report

      Yes, that’s how I understood it.

    • June 20th 2018 @ 1:58pm
      HD said | June 20th 2018 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

      Agreed with the author. To think that you have to always strike and win is a misconception. Whilst Iran won with the opponent’s own goal, they secured the 3 points by their hard work. Imagine if they had a poor defense and had already 3 goals against them by the glorified 95th minute. Then it would have been a magnificent 3-1 win for Morocco. Nowadays, international football is all about preventing mistakes and taking the opportunities.

      Spain could have won their game against Portugal too if the goalie/defenders had not made those mistakes early on.

      I think winning by defense is very much like surviving life with strict financial savings (rather than earning and wasting money).

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