SBSNews – NEW SOUTH WALES, Shervin Adeli is an Australian five-a-side star whose talent is underpinned by his Iranian heritage.
‘World Cup Fans’ is a special SBS News series running in the lead up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. It looks at the 32 qualifying countries through the eyes of their fans in Australia.
With a football at his feet, Shervin Adeli is a man possessed. Futsal – the five-a-side format of the game – is his passion.
“Getting the ball non-stop, more touches on the ball, you’re taking more shots, you’re active, you’re in the game more, so it’s fast-paced,” he tells SBS News.
Adeli lives and breathes futsal and that passion has taken him all the way to Australia’s national team, the Futsalroos.
The 25-year-old says his talent is underpinned by his Iranian heritage.
“In Iran, most of the country play on the street so that sort of emulates playing futsal; it’s smaller, closer,” he says.
“So I think that’s why my dad would have pushed me towards playing futsal.”
Adeli has worn the green and gold 25 times and made three appearances at the 2016 Futsal World Cup in Colombia. But he says the most meaningful was the 2010 Futsal Asian Cup when he faced his ancestral homeland.
“Playing against my family’s heritage and my grandparents [heritage] was very emotional,” he says.
But he got along with the Iranian players afterwards.
“For them it was exciting to see an Iranian-Australian playing for Australia and I was just excited because Iran is such a great team in futsal, top four or five in the world.”
The Futsalroos helped produce Socceroos star Tom Rogic and the national side are into the World Cup finals this June for a fourth-consecutive time.
But football has a long and complicated story in Iran. The game was brought to the country by the British in the late 19th Century and the first national league was created in the 1960s.
But when revolution swept Iran in 1978, the national league was abandoned until 1989. Iran withdrew from the 1982 World Cup and was disqualified from the 1986 tournament for refusing to play matches on neutral ground.
Alireza Ehsani, who founded the Iranian Football Association of Australia and who once played in Iran’s northern state leagues, says war and upheaval set the national team back decades.
“For eight or nine years we didn’t have a league and you can see that Iran, as a powerhouse of Asia – they’ve won the Asian Cup three times and have been runners-up four times – haven’t won the Asian Cup since then,” Mr Ehsani says.
“Iran has not qualified for the Olympics for 40 years, so these are the consequences we had as a result of the stoppage of football and a stop in the leagues.”
Mr Ehsani came to Australia with his family as a skilled migrant after the war and brought with him his passion for the world game, establishing the Iranian Football Association of Australia.
“I spoke to my Chinese friends and the Chinese Soccer Association has been here for 25 years. It came to my mind that given the talented players I could find among Iranians I thought somehow we need to develop some engagement programs … and engage with other communities,” he says.
“We needed a talent program to inject Iranian players into the Australian national team.”
Lucky for Mr Ehsani and Adeli, Australia and Iran have avoided each other in the World Cup group stages in Russia. Iran (also known as Team Melli, ‘national team’ in Persian) traversed the qualification phase undefeated and has been grouped alongside Morocco, and powerhouse nations Portugal and Spain.
Mr Ehsani says he’s opting for a glass half full approach for now.
“I am very confident that Iran will perform well in particular with European teams given we have eight or nine European based players. I’m sure Iran will be a dark horse in Russia.”