July 19, 2024
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Tehran Times – TEHRAN, Iran national football team head coach Amir Ghalenoei has defended his side’s performance in the second round of the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027 qualifiers, despite facing criticism from experts.

Iran finished top of Group E, ahead of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Hong Kong, and will be seeded in Pot 1 for the third round of qualifiers. However, the team’s 0-0 draw against Uzbekistan in their final group match drew criticism for their lackluster performance.

Ghalenoei talked about the team’s long travel schedule and the fatigue and injuries of some players as reasons for being held against Uzbekistan.

“We finished first in the group and are in Pot 1. We played great in the second half against Uzbekistan, and even their coach said they were lucky for gaining a point.

“We still have weak points, but we played well considering the poor physical condition of the players,” he said.

He also noted that four key players – Morteza Pouraliganji, Saeid Ezatolahi, Ali Gholizadeh, and Sadegh Moharrami – will be available for the third round, which could boost the team’s strength.

The coach also addressed the issue of generational change in the national team.

“Age is not as important factor in modern football as it once was. Physical fitness is more important now. We have players like Ehsan Hajisafi, 34, who is playing well in the Greek Super League, as an example of experienced players who can still contribute to the team,” Ghalenoei added.

Ghalenoei also called for more patience from fans, saying that it takes time to develop young players. He pointed to the example of Aria Yousefi, 22, who made a mistake that led to a goal for Hong Kong in Team Mell’s 4-2 win against the hosts.

“Youth development should happen at the youth and club level, not at the national team. If Yousefi had more international experience, he would not have made the same mistake.”

The coach believes in both winning games and developing young players for the future.

“We must be result-oriented and also focus on developing young players. Some of the criticism is unfair and seems to be more about me personally than about the national team,” he added.

Iran will learn their opponents for the third round of qualifiers when the draw is held on June 27th. The team will be hoping to qualify for the FIFA World Cup for the fourth time in a row.

“We have to wait until the draw then we can plan for the next round. The situation in our league is also unclear, and we can’t plan until we know the start date of the competition,” Ghalenoei concluded.