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Iran seek salvation in Germany

With the best ever squad for this year's World Cup, the Iranians are all set to prove that they can keep up with the world football elite.

india Updated: May 20, 2006 11:33 IST

One victory, one draw and four defeats, that is Iran's achievement in the two World Cups they've featured in -Argentina 1978 and France 1998.

At Germany 2006, however, Iran wants more than to just attend. "We have reached a stage where just attending would not be sufficient," says football federation president Mohammad Dadkan.

Iranian squad for Germany is considered by many experts to be the best ever. One main reason is that half of the team is playing in European leagues.

Midfielders Mehdi Mahdavikia, Ali Karimi, Fereydoon Zandi and Moharram Navidkia play at Hamburg, Bayern Munich, Kaiserslautern and Bochum respectively, while striker Vahid Hashemian is with Hanover. Central defender Rahman Rezaei plays for Messina in Italy.

"I am very happy that they play in big European teams, especially in the Bundesliga, and get familiar with one of the most progressive football styles, technically, tactically and physically," said Iran's coach Branko Ivankovic.

Since his employment in 2002, the Croatian has led the Iranian National team to Asian Olympic Gold in 2002, third rank in the Asian championship in 2004 and to the 2006 World Cup.

The team will be completed with veteran skipper Ali Daei - who also played for several years in the Bundesliga for Arminia Bielefeld, Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin - and a selection of talented local players, many of them hoping to be playing in European leagues after the World Cup.

Coach Ivankovic prefers to play his favourite 4-2-3-1 system, which can be flexible and due to all-round players like Mahdavikia and Karimi, be changed to a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 or even 4-3-3 if necessary.

Goalkeeper Ebrahim Mirzapour is the undisputed number one. In front of him stand the four defenders Rezaie and Yahya Golmohammadi in the central position, Mohammad Nosrati on the left and Hossein Kaabi on the right.

The young Kaabi, who reportedly runs 100 meters in under 11 seconds, is one of the most promising Iranian players. Javad Nekunam and Zandi, the workers who bring the two superstars Mahdavikia and Karimi into position, occupy the first row in the midfield.

Hashemian and co-striker Daei are responsible for the goals.

"Now we have to prove to the world that we can keep up with the world football elite," Mahdavikia said. Coach Ivankovic has already led Croatia, as assistant coach, to the third place in France 1998.

"I know quite well what is awaiting us in Germany and will prepare the team accordingly," he said.

First Published: May 20, 2006 11:33 IST