Portuguese tactician Carlos Queiroz will mark his 100th match as the head coach of the Iran national football team when Team Melli face Japan in their monumental semifinal clash at the AFC Asian Cup 2019 on Monday.
The former Manchester United assistant coach took over the reins of the side back in 2011 and has become the longest serving coach of the national team. He has also achieved tremendous success with Team Melli battling several odds including teams unwilling to play against them, lack of funds and clashes with domestic clubs.
For those looking from the outside, it might have seemed all smooth sailing, but there is no denying Queiroz has one of the toughest jobs in world football. So, let’s take a look at the five important moments in Queiroz’s eight-year stint with the West Asians.
1) Taking Iran back to the big league
After failure to reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa and another poor showing in the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar under Afshin Ghotbi, the Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) turned to Queiroz in 2011 to help Team Melli reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Queiroz was sacked by Portugal after an underwhelming two-year stint and despite having a very successful stint as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United had failed to taste much success as a coach on his own.
Under Queiroz, Iran national team took a new direction as he called on the Iranian diaspora and convinced players like Ashkan Dejagah and Saman Ghoddos to turn up for Team Melli. And buoyed by the new players and the Portuguese’s discipline and tactics, Iran were standout performers in the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup finishing top of a group featuring Korea Republic, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Lebanon.
After leading South Africa and United Arab Emirates into the World Cup, Iran became the third country Queiroz put among the elites of world football.
2) The heartbreak in the 2015 Asian Cup
Iran followed up their World Cup qualification by making it to the finals of the Asian Cup as well. And in Australia, they gave a good account of themselves in the group stages as they battled it out among Asia’s elites to win their first Asian Cup title since 1976. It all looked pretty good for Team Melli until they hit the brick wall that was Iraq! And the quarterfinal encounter between the two regional rivals remains to be one of the mosts controversial matches in the history of the continental championship.
Iran were down to 10 men for the most part of the game at the Canberra Stadium after Mehrdad Pooladi was sent off in controversial fashion in the first half. The game ended 3-3 at the end of the extra time with Reza Ghoochannejhad equalising for Iran in the 118th minute — barely two minutes after Iraq had thought they had found the winner through a Dhurgham Ismail penalty.
Iraq claimed the victory in the penalty shootout, but the controversy lingered long after the final whistle as Iran protested alleging that Iraq had fielded an ineligible player. The victory left a bad taste in the mouths, but Queiroz, who was given a contract extension till the 2018 World Cup before the 2015 Asian Cup, had to recognise his troops as they looked to put the defeat behind them.
3) So close, yet so far in Russia 2018
There were disagreements brewing between Queiroz and various stakeholders of Iranian football already and in 2015, he shocked world football by announcing he had quit as Iran head coach. However, he was soon reinstated in the role by the Iranian Sports Ministry which said that anyone “who doesn’t like this can leave the FFIRI.” Queiroz gave a befitting replay to the people who wanted him out as he steered Iran to back-to-back qualification for the World Cup for the first time in the history of Iranian football in 2017.
Iran began their World Cup campaign in Russia with a win over Morocco — only the country’s second win in the World Cup after their first against the United States back in 1998. They the fought valiantly against former world champions Spain, but went down a 54th-minute goal from Diego Costa before holding Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal to a 1-1 draw in the final group match as Karim Ansarifard scored with almost the final touch of the game. However, their valiant effort would go to waste as Spain and Portugal qualified for the Round of 16 with five points while Iran were sent packing with four.
4) Their journey to become Asia’s No. 1!
Iran defeated Madagascar 1-0 in a friendly in what was Queiroz’s first match back in 2011. And their latest was a dominant 3-0 win over Asian giants China PR in the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup 2019. Between the two, Queiroz have won 66, drawn 27 and lost 12 with Iran — an impressive record. He has also become the longest serving manager in Iran’s history during that period.
When Queiroz took over as the Iran coach, Team Melli were a shadow of their previous all-conquering self. And in the eight years since, he has helped the team rediscover their mojo and the fans rediscover their passion for the game. Iran were ranked seventh in Asia in 2011, but they were Asia’s No. 1 by October 2013 and they haven’t relinquished their position at the top of the table since.
5) The ongoing run at the Asian Cup 2019
Quieroz on privilege to play Japan with Iran ahead of Asian Cup semi-final match
Many have hailed Iran’s current crop of footballers as one of the finest in a very long time and most of the credit for it goes to none other than Queiroz. They were the pre-tournament favourites for the 17th Asian Cup, and with their performances so far in the competition, they have made themselves the firm favourites to win it come February 1. Iran are yet to concede a single goal in five games so far and their 3-0 demolition of Marcello Lippi’s China PR proved how lethal they are with their attack.
With the facing Hajime Moriyasu’s Japan in the semifinals at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain on Monday, Queiroz will also mark his 100th game for Team Melli. His future with the Iran national team is still up in the air. But the best gift the Iran players can give for the former Real Madrid manager during the occasion will be two more wins in the competition and an Asian Cup title to his name. For if anyone deserves to win the Asian Cup title for Iran after 43 years, it is Queiroz and his men.