Carlos Queiroz had a pretty good idea of what he was up to in September when he agreed to return to his former role as Iran national team coach, three years after ending his first term as coach. eight years in charge, on a $50,000 contract for three months of work culminating in the World Cup. Or at least he thought he had.
Immersed in a politically sensitive group in Qatar alongside the US, England and Wales – Iranian relations with the US and UK have rarely been anything but hostile since the Islamic Revolution 1979 – Queiroz would need to be both a football coach and a diplomat to ensure Iran’s World Cup campaign goes as smoothly as possible.
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But within days of returning to Iran, protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being arrested for not wearing her headscarf properly, began to escalate and engulf the country.
Almost two months later, the situation remains volatile. Women continue to protest against the regime by cutting their hair and refusing to wear the headscarf, with Iranian female footballers past and present joining protests on social media with posts that support demands for more great rights for women and society.
Outside Iran, Ukraine has launched calls for Team Melli – Iran’s nickname for its national team – to be kicked out of the World Cup over claims the country is providing football. military equipment to Russia to support its invasion of Ukraine.
As a national team manager, Queiroz is the figurehead of Iranian football, but the former Real Madrid manager and longtime assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United chose to avoid the consuming topic now Iran. Asked last week at a training camp in Tehran about the ongoing protests and unrest in the country – and suggestions that many Iranians do not want their team to be the face of the Islamic regime – Queiroz said chose to avoid giving his opinion on the situation.
When ESPN spoke to Queiroz in late September during a training break in Vienna, Austria, ahead of friendlies against Uruguay and Senegal, he said: “Most Iranians have a clear answer to this campaign. They want their national football team to participate in the 2022 World Cup.”
The Amini protests had already begun and anxiety within the Iranian camp led to ESPN and other Western media being banned from attending Uruguay’s game at St. Polten ahead of a U-turn. the day of the match. Iranian concerns over protests at the match proved to be well-founded, with fans expelled by Austrian police for unfurling banners bearing Amini’s name.
Queiroz was asked for his observations on the situation in Iran, but he responded by saying, “I have no idea.
His position was clear. He was talking about football and Iran’s prospects in Qatar, but everything else was banned. The 69-year-old had defied the Iranian Football Federation hierarchy by even agreeing to speak to ESPN, but nonetheless, it was all about football matters.
The situation in Iran has worsened rather than calmed down since mid-September, but the World Cup is due to start in just over a week and Iran are due to face England in their UEFA Champions League match. opening at Khalifa Stadium on November 21 ahead of their encounter against the United States at Al Thumama Stadium in the final Group B game on November 29, Queiroz’s views on the squad are below.
ESPN: Iran have been written off as the no-hope of the group, despite being 20th in the FIFA World Rankings, just below Wales (19) and the United States (16), that tells you does it give extra motivation?
Queiroz: Never. I never think that way because I don’t care what other people think of us. We are thought of. We have our strengths and our qualities, and of course we have some weaknesses like all teams. No one is perfect and at the right time it is time to speak inside the pitch.
Those feelings or those comments, they don’t count. But in the end, in the match, what will be important is to put on a good performance, play good football and leave the result in the hands of God. That’s what we can do.
Mark Ogden analyzes the USMNT’s draw for the World Cup, where they will face England, IR Iran and a European qualifier.
ESPN: Iran have never made it out of the group stage of a World Cup, so what are the expectations in Qatar?
Queiroz: For me, it’s not bad to feel that we feel this pressure to elevate our responsibilities, our motivation and our duties. But inside the group, our expectations to do well are exactly on the same level as everyone else.
We want to move forward, to be better, and for sure we have our expectations to reach the second stage of the World Cup. Nothing has changed. We are leaving for our third World Cup together with the same conviction and the same ambition to be there.
ESPN: The opener is against England, one of the World Cup favourites. What is their strength?
Queiroz: I am happy to play against England, as we are happy in Iranian football to play against Portugal or Spain. We are happy to play against the best teams in the world because it is our life. We work to be among the best teams in the world, among the best players.
So being there for us is a moment of happiness. We work all our lives to be in the World Cup. And when we reach the World Cup, we go there as minor players, but we are among the top 32 national teams in the world at the moment, so let’s enjoy it.
ESPN: Having worked in England with Manchester United, you know the country and the team’s desperation to do well, but you’ve seen them fail many times before.
Queiroz: England are a top team. There is no doubt that in recent years, in international football, England have grown with better preparation and a clear vision. This is clear with the results on the ground.
But I’m not saying this team is better, or that they are better players, from the days of David Beckham and Paul Scholes. They are not at that stage, but the difference now is that England are showing a clear direction and vision of where all the players and the whole team need to go. So it creates a much more cohesive and competitive team.
But this World Cup is something different because we’re going to be dealing with a whole new build-up – short rest periods between games, a competition played in November, which is completely different compared to other World Cups, so we have players in Europe who will arrive in Qatar with 15 to 20 games in their legs.
In other World Cups they have 65-70 games in the legs, so let’s see what happens.
ESPN: The game against the USA is the last game of the group and could decide the qualification hopes of both teams. You coached in MLS with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in the 1990s. How do you see the American team and the nation’s progress in football?
Queiroz: I see progress, football progress everywhere. Most people don’t see it, but professionals do. The game is progressing in the US – it’s faster, thinks faster, makes quick decisions from players, so we have to be aware of that.
This also happens with all countries, including the United States. But year after year, they take off and compare well to other continents. Now they have links with players from big countries and big competitions. American football players are growing rapidly and compare to other countries and other continents of the world.
ESPN: Can Iran surprise people in this World Cup?
Queiroz: What we expect from the World Cup are great games, great games, great performances. Iran, England, Wales, Spain, Portugal, USA – everyone should engage with one goal to create joy, happiness and pride for our supporters.