July 20, 2024
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PersianFootball.com (Doha) – The moment of truth is finally upon Iran’s U-23 national football team. Referred to as Team Melli Omid [Hope], two victories are all that separate them from their first ever Olympic games’ appearance, but a single loss would spell “the end” for the road to Rio.

Standing in the way are the Samurai Blue, nine-time Olympians and the semi-finalists at the 2012 London Olympics. Having qualified for every Olympics since the mid 1990’s, the Japanese are determined to maintain the status quo and are unlikely to go down without a hard fight to the end.

Historically, Japan’s rise to the upper echelons of Asian football coincided with Iran’s decline, due to mismanagement and international isolation brought on by the 1979 Revolution. The sun, shunned by the Iranians and removed from a flag that it had dominated for nearly five centuries, poetically turned to face the land of the rising sun instead.

Coincidentally, that international isolation came to an end on Sunday when sanctions were lifted in accordance with the provisions of the nuclear accord between Iran and the world powers. Hours later, Team Melli Omid celebrated the potential dawn of a new era by defeating China 3-2 and reaching the quarterfinals of the AFC U-23 Championships for the very first time.

But tomorrow’s match, to be played at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium at 16:30 Doha time [12:30 CET, 08:30 EST] will be the true test of where the Iranians stand. Afterall, if Japan’s rise in Asian football came at the expense of Iran, there’s not a more fitting way to mark a reversal of fortunes, than to do so at the expense of Japan.

Considering the opposition however, this may prove to be a monumental task. As with other Japanese teams of the past being true symbols of their nation and culture, this team is a well-disciplined, hard-working and cohesive unit with a winning mentality, guaranteed to fight until the last second of the match.

The Iranians on the other hand have been suffering for decades, from a self-imposed defeatist mentality that’s proactively searching for factors and persons to blame before failures are even realized. And it’s difficult to imagine a reversal of fortune without a change in attitude.

With less than 24 hours left before kick-off, that change in attitude needs to come not just from the players or the coaching staff, but from the media, the fans and the entire nation. Iranians are in dire need of an epiphany and a cultural and nation-wide reintroduction of the word self-belief.

It goes without saying that self-belief is not the complete formula for success but it is the main ingredient – hard-work being another. And the history of football is full of Cinderella stories of teams that have risen to the top against all odds – underdogs, driven to success only by self-belief and hard work.

So, if the fans are intent on looking at Team Melli Omid as the underdogs going into this match, weighed down by perceived shortcomings in defense or other areas including the management cadre, they should at least give their hearts to the underdogs whose success stories they should rewind in their minds, because tomorrow’s forecasts for Doha indicate that the “sun is shining, the weather is sweet”!

[Credit: “Sun is shining, the weather is sweet” is the lyrical work of Bob Marley, himself a great underdog story from an inspirational song titled “sun is shining” which also includes the followin lines: “To the rescue, here I am… want you to know, y’all, can you, can you, can you understand?”]