AFC Asian Cup 2019: World Cup heartache drives Cheshmi

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AFC – TEHRAN, Islamic Republic of Iran defender Roozbeh Cheshmi has admitted the injury suffered after the first game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia that subsequently ruled him out of the tournament motivates him to fight even harder for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 title.

Cheshmi was a rock in the centre of defence as Iran scored late to open their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Morocco in Saint Petersburg, but he was injured before the next game and had to watch from the sidelines as his teammates put in valiant performances against Spain and Portugal.

Team Melli ultimately narrowly missed out on qualification to the next stage to end their and Cheshmi’s dream of a first appearance in the knockout rounds, but the 25-year-old is now back to full fitness and raring to go ahead of UAE 2019.

“That injury was a very sad moment for me as I lost the chance to play against Spain and Portugal,” reflected Cheshmi, who was part of the Esteghlal side that progressed to the 2018 AFC Champions League quarter-finals.

“But that regret only motivates me to fight more for the Asian Cup, to me part of Team Melli’s side and to get good results. It was a bad time [personally], but it has given me a huge desire for the rest of my football career.

“It is every young football player’s dream to play for their national team and I am so glad this dream has come true for me. I will always give everything when I play for Iran.”

Cheshmi made his international debut in a goalless draw with Korea Republic during the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in August 2017, after Iran had already confirmed their place in Russia, and the defender did enough to persuade coach Carlos Queiroz that he was worthy of a place in the final 23-man squad.

Since returning from injury he has been a regular fixture in the national team set-up and, with Iran feeling of the benefit of the long-serving Portuguese’s near eight years at the helm, the next aim is to break a run of three successive quarter-final eliminations and lift a title they last won in 1976.

“Of course, Queiroz’s tactical knowledge has helped us all, but the most important thing is the fighting spirit he has given us,” admitted Cheshmi.

“I think people saw at the World Cup that we were fighting until the 90th minute in every match and gave it all we had to make our country successful.

“This is the most important thing he has brought to the national team, and now the dedication and spirit of the Iranian players is very clear.”

Iran suffered the disappointment of exiting Australia 2015 after penalty shootout defeat to Iraq in the last eight to mean their wait for a fourth continental title dragged into its fourth decade.

But the Central Asians were superb in progressing to the FIFA World Cup, going nine games without conceding in the third round of qualifying, and then went toe-to-toe with some of the best sides on the planet.

They will travel to the AFC Asian Cup as many people’s favourites ahead of their Group D opener against Yemen in Abu Dhabi on January 7, before games against Vietnam and, once again, Iraq.

“I think, as always, Japan, Korea Republic and Australia are the teams who have the biggest chance of winning the title, along with Iran, and it will be the same this time,” added Cheshmi.

“When you think that a country, a generation, is supporting you and they are praying for you to succeed, it’s a very precious feeling which makes me proud. We will do our best to make our people happy.”

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