World Cup 2018: Carlos Queiroz the catalyst as Iran dream of more

Queiroz has shown the special value in having an elite coach, one who can turn his jumble of players into a serious unit like the one that outlasted Morocco on Friday
By Jack Pitt-Brooke St Petersburg

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“Superman is only in the cartoons,” said Carlos Queiroz, one game into the World Cup and already having to deny that he has extra-human powers

The World Cup is about players, not managers, but in St Petersburg on Friday evening Queiroz showed the special value in having an elite coach, one who can turn his jumble of players into a serious unit

That is what Queiroz has done for Iran over the past seven years, taking them to the 2014 World Cup and now this one, making them the most canny, disciplined and hard to beat side in Asia, and by a distance

All that work culminated in St Petersburg on Friday when Iran won their second World Cup match in their history, with a performance that only a well-coached side could produce. Like a clever boxer, they survived the ferocious combinations Morocco threw at them in the early rounds, let them tire themselves out and start doubting themselves. The atmosphere started to turn and then, in the final seconds of the final round, Iran landed the knock-out blow

It was a vindication for Queiroz and his seven years of hard work in extremely difficult circumstances. He had studied Morocco, he knew that they would come flying out early on, and he knew how to turn that against them. “Our strategy from the first minute was to create a mental collapse in the Moroccan players,” he said. “And we tried to do that by creating frustration and blocking all the play-makers

But should it have even been a surprise? Iran had not lost a competitive game since the last World Cup. In their 10 qualifiers for this one they only conceded twice. They are a testament, like Iceland, to the power of organisation and unity in international football. And that all comes from the coach. “It was not a miracle or magic” said Queiroz, again having to insist on the fact of his own humanity. “We won because the team concentrated for 90 minutes

Of course Queiroz thanked his players for their “attitude, commitment, soul and heart” but these are players working to a plan, and you have to wonder whether they would work this hard, or this focused, for a lesser coach

And when Karim Ansarifard stopped to speak after Friday’s game, he was full of praise for the man who has shown them how to win

“To be honest, we have one of the fantastic coaches in the world,” Ansarifard beamed. “He supported us, from when he arrived in Iran, and over the last seven years he has supported us all the time, he fights for us, he teaches us the way. We learn something from his every day. We are proud he is one of us

What matters most is that Queiroz has stuck by the team even when his job has been made almost impossible by circumstances outside his control. Facilities and resources in Iran are lacking, but even more damaging is their international isolation. Opponents have pulled out of warm-up friendlies, leaving the team undercooked. “No pitches, no camps, no friendly games, and sanctions,” as Queiroz said after the game. Just this month Nike pulled out of their boot deal with Iran to comply with the Trump administration’s new sanctions on Iran, to the dismay of the players

Now they are naturally keen that Queiroz will stay beyond this year, for the next World Cup campaign, and Ansarifard almost begged his manager to stay around no matter what happens this month. “It is going to be a good opportunity if we can keep him with our team,” he said. “We hope, we hope he will stay. We will pray for that he will stay. Really now, after seven years, he is one of us. He tries to give everything to our national team, all the time. He deserves to stay with us, to make all Iranian people happy and proud

But before all of that there are two more games, Spain in Kazan, Portugal in Saransk. Until then at least, Queiroz’s team are top of Group B. And they have shown that they are far better than many realised – especially Morocco – at keeping it tight and wearing you down. So why shouldn’t they dream of making things difficult and sneaking something

And this brilliant veteran former coach of Real Madrid and the Portugal national team, already having to make clear that he is despite everything still just a man, knows how much it all means. “If the game against Morocco was the World Cup final for us,” he said, “the game against Spain will be the Universe Cup final

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