July 20, 2024
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PersianFootball.com – In less than 24 hours, Iran will kick start the final leg of their campaign for the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, with the first match of the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship in Doha, Qatar.

Although Team Melli Omid [Hope] has never qualified for the Olympics, there is high hope among the fans that Iran will not only book another trip to the Americas, but emulate the success of the senior national team at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada.

A heart-breaking quarter-finals loss to the Soviet Union in the Municipal Stadium in Sherbrooke that day was the end of Iranian dreams of Olympic glory and remains a distant memory to a generation that has waited four decades to see Iran participate in the games once again.

Interestingly, Montreal was not the last time Iran qualified for the Olympics. The games in Moscow were boycotted after Team Melli had already qualified for the tournament. In fact, from 1964 to 1980 Iran qualified for every Olympics, with the exception of Mexico City 1968 in which it did not participate.

Iran also boycotted the 1994 Olympics in Los Angeles and fell to Kuwait at the first hurdle of the 1988 qualifiers, compliments of an 89th minute penalty and the away-goal-rule. Since 1992 the format for the Olympics tournament was changed to allow only Under-23 players with a maximum of 3 senior players.

Iranian fans are glued to the edge of their seats because this marks the first time since 2004 that Team Melli Omid has managed to survive the preliminary rounds and group stage. Iran also gained some extra momentum after lifting the WAFF [West Asian Football Federation] U-23 trophy.

Coincidentally, Iran’s first match in this tournament, scheduled for 16:30 Doha time [12:30 CET, 08:30 EST] will be a replay of the final match of the WAFF U-23 tournament against Syria, which proved to be a tough test for Team Melli Omid, both physically and mentally.

And expectations are that coach Khakpour and his men will rise to the challenge once again with the same calm and calculated approach to the match. Khakpour praised the Syrians’ work rate and fighting spirits in the pre-match conference and indicated that despite the Syrian claims of weak preparations they will be a tough opponent.

Mohammad Khakpour who was part of Iran’s most successful squad at the World Cup in 1998 and is considered to be one of Team Melli’s all-time best defenders, has indicated that his team’s goal for this tournament is not only to qualify for the Olympics, but to lift the trophy.

With only three tickets for grabs, a trip to the land of Samba will not be an easy one and lifting the trophy even that much harder. But with a star studded squad and the right mix of discipline and determination this seems to be the tournament where Team Melli Omid can finally make its mark.

Even the absence of some of Team Melli’s U-23 star players from this tournament – Sardar Azmoun, Saeid Ezatolahi and Alireza Jahanbakhsh – who were either injured or not released by their respective clubs in the Netherlands and Russia’s top divisions, has not dampened the mood in the Iranian camp.

Syria could be missing as many as five key players due to injury including Ahmad Al Kaddour, Nasouh Al Nakdali, Mahmoud Mawas, Omar Khribin and Khaled Mobayed. Should these players not be deemed match fit at the last minute, Syria will take to the field with a seriously depleted offensive line.

It may prove to be a long night for Iranian fans all over the world, anxiously awaiting Team Melli Omid’s participation in the final stage of the Olympic Qualifiers for the first time in 12 years, but this may very well prove to be the match that puts hope back in the National Team of Hope!

Possible Starting Lineup (4-1-4-1) : Mohammadreza Akhbari (G), Ali Abdollahzadeh (D), Roozbeh Cheshmi (D), Mohammad Daneshgar (D), Reza Aliari (D), Ali Karimi (DM), Ehsan Pahlevan (AM), Mehdi Torabi (AM), Alireza Naghizadeh (AM), Milad Mohammadi (AM), Amir Arsalan Motahari (F)