If one were to believe those assembled at the Kanteerava Stadium, then Iran will hardly have to soil their beautiful jersey with a cheetah insignia in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against India.
The disparity in talent between the two teams is apparent --- Iran have players who have established their careers in European leagues. But then, there is a backstory, and that jersey is a constant reminder. While the Indian national team wears layers knit impeccably by one of the biggest sportswear manufacturer in the world, the visiting Team Melli dons a kit that has been labelled below par.
At last year’s World Cup in Brazil, national coach Carlos Queiroz, who has spent his days at Santiago Bernabeu and Old Trafford, lamented the kit manufactured by German company 'uhlsport GMBH'. Socks that shrink in wash, jerseys that hardly help cope with the weather were few of the complaints.
Uhlsport, which also makes the kit of the biggest clubs in Iran and a few in Africa and Asia, had earlier come under criticism for supposedly providing old and poor quality balls for the Persian Gulf Pro League.
So, why persist with the manufacturer? The sanctions imposed on Iran by the US, UN and European Union has had a part to play. The sanctions, which would be removed in phases following the historic nuclear deal Iran signed recently, had its effect on other football matters too. The chief of the Iranian football federation was recently quoted as saying that they are still awaiting the $10 million of World Cup prize money owed by Fifa. The amount is only a fraction of around $100 billion of Iranian assets frozen outside the country.
Despite all this, Iran has a national football side ranked highest in Asia, and a domestic league that is highly competitive. The contrast is stark. India are ranked 155th in the world and its premier domestic competition, the I-League, is in disarray.
That Iran was still able to export around 1 million barrels of oil a day and most of the clubs, with the exception of Tehran giants Persepolis, are owned or backed by government bodies have helped. But it still is no paradise. "The ranking is not a fair reflection of the state of Iran football," coach Queiroz said on Monday. "In terms of infrastructure, we are well behind other Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan and Australia," he said. "But what Iran has is passion. There is no other country where the passion for football is greater," said the well-travelled coach.