Iranian team on verge of World Cup qualification
TEHRAN: Iran is looking for a comfortable home draw against Bahrain on Wednesday and the one point needed to secure qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
With the whole country behind the national squad, the Islamic regime’s President Mohammad Khatami has also come up with an offer of “valuable prizes” if they can bring Iran a World Cup spot for just the third time in history. Iran scored a comfortable home 1-0 win against North Korea on Friday, placing itself at the top of Asia’s Group B with 10 points followed by Japan with nine points, Bahrain with 4 points and the gritty North Koreans with none. The top two teams in the group gain automatic qualification. The third-place finishers in the two Asian groups will play off against each other, with the winners facing the fourth-placed team in the North and Central American and Caribbean Zone.
Iran are confident they can follow through with what has been a series of strong performances. But they are nevertheless looking for a crowd-pleasing win against Bahrain. “Wednesday will be a great day for Iran and the Iranians,” said Mohammad Dadkan, the head of Iran’s Football Federation. “Although we can qualify with just a draw, we want to get the maximum points. We want everyone to pray.”
Iranian papers said President Mohammad Khatami was preparing to be at the massive Azadi stadium for the Bahrain match, with “big prizes” if Iran pulls through. The top Asian side currently 18th in FIFA’s world rankings are also planning beyond Wednesday’s match, hoping to get a maximum of foreign turf under their feet in preparation for 2006. Dadkan said the side were planning a training camp in England in July and friendly fixtures against Queen’s Park Rangers, Millwall and Portsmouth. Iran’s last Group B fixture will be an away game against Japan on August 17, something the side hopes will just be a formality. Iran’s Croatian coach Branko Ivankovich, on the verge of becoming a national hero, is nevertheless cautious. “The game is not over yet,” he said after the decidedly dull win against North Korea.
“It is too soon for the big celebration. We have a difficult game ahead of us on Wednesday against Bahrain. Some of our players got two yellow cards meaning they will not be able to play.” Man of the Match and the sole goal scorer in the North Korea game, Rahman Rezai, is one of them. afp