AFC – AL RAYYAN, Islamic Republic of Iran head coach Amir Ghalenoei is eyeing a winning start when his side take on Palestine in their AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ opener on Sunday as he returns to the country where he played four decades ago.
The 60-year-old IR Iran boss had previously managed Team Melli in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, where they reached the quarter-finals, but he believes the game in Asia has made huge leaps since the tournament held in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
“I would like to say I’m very happy being in Qatar. I have very good memories here, I played here 40 years ago at Al Sadd Club and I have very happy memories here,” said Ghalenoei, who wore the colours of the Qatari giants between 1987 and 1989, leading them to two consecutive league titles.
“I believe this Asian Cup will be one of the best because Qatar has experience from the World Cup so they will organise a great competition.”
“Asian football has improved significantly since 2007 as you could see in the last World Cup where three teams qualified to the Round of 16. We have very good international players and good players from our league also, and we will try our best in this tournament.”
The second highest ranked team in the tournament, Iran sit in 21st place in the most recent FIFA rankings, well above their Sunday opponents Palestine, ranked 99th, but Ghalenoei knows it will still be a difficult task for his side at the Education City Stadium.
“I believe the first match is very important and we are playing against a top team because they have very good players, they have a good defence, and they have achieved good results in recent friendly matches.
“Every match here will be like a final for us. Since I joined the national team, we have been in good condition and we will try our best to deliver a good performance and get good results in this tournament.”
Meanwhile, Palestine head coach Makram Daboub hailed his upcoming opponents as one of his favourites to win the title, but insisted his squad are relishing the challenge.
“First of all, I would like to thank our brothers in Qatar for the hospitality and I congratulate them on the dazzling opening ceremony,” said Daboub.
“Iran are one of the best teams in the continent. They have a lot of top players and are a talented group. It’s between them, Korea Republic and Japan for the title in my opinion. Recently we played very well against Australia, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia, so in one match, we fancy our chances, and we can dream of going through to the next round.”
The Tunisian tactician has been working in Palestinian football since 2010 before eventually being appointed head coach of the national team in 2021, and he believes his players are used to overcoming challenges.
“The difficulties are nothing new for us. I have been in Palestine for 13 years, but the last two years have been very difficult for us, but we tried to make up for the lack of domestic football through training camps in Algeria and Saudi Arabia, but the challenge is that the players did not have enough match practice, but we are ready and we will do our best to bring joy for our people.”
Qatar 2023 represents a third consecutive appearance at the AFC Asian Cup for the Palestinians who lost all three games in Australia 2015, but then collected two points in their second participation in UAE 2019, and Daboub is hopeful the experience of the previous two editions will help them go further this time around.
“Some of our players are in their second or third Asian Cup, so each participation adds a lot of experience for the players. We were inexperienced in 2015 and did much better in 2019 and were close to qualifying to the Round of 16. Now we have accumulated experience, and we believe we can do better than the two previous experiences and get a first win and a first qualification to the next round.”