Shamsaee sparks Iran comeback

Iran live to fight another day after coming from two goals down to edge a thrilling Group E encounter with Ukraine by the odd goal in nine. 

The Asian champions' fate wil now be decided against Italy on Tuesday after a heart-stopping encounter that had everything one could want from a futsal match: excitement, passion and goals.

The respective sides' commitment to attack ensured that and it was Ukraine, so effective on the break, who looked to have the greatest cutting edge when they marched into a 2-0 lead inside nine minutes through goals from Ildar Makayev and Sergiy Cheporniuk.

Yet, with Iran looked tired and disorientated, their captain Vahid Shamsaee led by example, scoring from a penalty to reduce the deficit and forcing Fedir Pylypiv into an own goal to equalize before netting another spot kick to put Iran in front.

Mohammad Taheri took up the gauntlet to score Iran's fourth and fifth goals, leaving Ukraine chasing a result that would preserve their own fragile hopes. As it was, while the Eastern Europeans poured men forward in search of a way back into the match, a combination of poor finishing, bad luck and superb goalkeeping from Mostafa Nazari ensured that the celebrations belonged to Iran.


Asia beats Africa in champions' battle



Rio De Janeiro

Iran kept their hopes of reaching the next round with a 4-2 win over Libya at the Maracanazinho in Group D of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008. It was a deserved victory for the Asian champions over their African counterparts and leaves Libya without a win from their three matches so far.

Iran took control of the match from the first whistle by putting a lot of pressure on Libya. Their gameplan worked perfectly when they found themselves 2-0 up in the first seven minutes thanks to goals from Mohammad Hashemzadeh and Mohammad Taheri.

Despite the backing from the local crowd, Libya did their best to improve, but spurred on by the influence of Rabie Abdel, Iran scored again in the 17th minute with Hashemzadeh claiming his second of the game.

Only some outstanding goalkeeping from Mohamed Alsharif kept Libya in the game, but they soon found themselves with a fighting chance when goals from Abdel and Majid Latifi pulled the score back to 3-2 five minutes after half-time.

However, Iran kept their cool, focus on their game plan and put the game beyond doubt eight minutes from time when Mostafa Tayyebi scored his first goal of the tournament to ensure that the west Asians went second in the Group D standings.

Realism is not a trait usually associated with football fans, but it is always a necessary one for coaches. While the Iranian faithful are hoping for their futsal team to improve on their 1992 semi-final performance in October's FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008, coach Hossein Shams downplayed any lofty expectations.

"There is always the possibility to do better, but the fact remains that we failed to progress beyond the group stage at three straight World Cups, in 1996, 2000 and 2004," Shams told in a recent exclusive interview. "Our initial goal is to qualify for the second stage."

Having said that, being realistic doesn't mean that Team Melli are short of ambition. "Winning the World Cup is everyone's dream of course, and we are no exception," continued Shams, under whom the players are undergoing final preparations on Kish Island in the south of Iran, where the local weather resembles that of Rio de Janeiro. "But we can't think about that until we reach the latter stages."

Group strategy
Most would agree that Iran have been placed in one of the toughest groups. Pitted against reigning world champions Spain, Czech Republic, Libya and Uruguay, Iran's qualifying task will be difficult, with only the top two teams advancing.

"This is a group as tough as you can imagine. Besides Spain, there is Libya, the African champions, and both Czech Republic and Uruguay are respected in futsal on their respective continents," said Shams in assessing the group.

Iran Uruguay
Asian champions Iran meet Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, when they will be looking to consolidate their hold on second place in Group D. The South Americans, with a solitary point to their name in the tournament so far, are obliged to win to retain any hope of progressing to the next round. Czech Republic, currently lying third and a point adrift of Iran, will be hoping to bounce back from their 4-0 defeat to Spain when they take on Libya. While a win for the north Africans would represent no more than consolation in their last match of the tournament, a victory for Czech Republic would set up an intriguing final game showdown with Iran.

The player
Mohammad Hashemzadeh (IRAN)
With his brace in Iran’s 4-2 victory over Libya, the 31-year-old pivot notched up his very first goals at a FIFA Futsal World Cup. At the event in Chinese Taipei fours year ago, Hashemzadeh failed to get on the scoresheet and had no joy either in Iran’s opening match of Brazil 2008 – a creditable 3-3 draw with Spain. Now that he has found his scoring range, coach Hossein Shams will be hoping he continues in similar fashion against Uruguay.

The stat
20 - After participating in every world cup since 1992, the game against Uruguay will be Iran’s 20th at a FIFA Futsal World Cup. No other Asian nation has chalked up more games at futsal’s premier event.

What they said
We’re focusing now on the game against Libya. If we win that match it will give us a boost going into the game against Iran, which will decide who goes into the next round.” Roman Mares, Czech Republic player.

Stirring comeback saves Spain

Iran 3-3 Spain

Holders Spain came from three goals behind to snatch a share of the spoils from a thrilling encounter with Iran at Maracanazhino.

The Asian champions had looked on course for a famous victory after establishing a seemingly comfortable advantage, but the Spanish are never to be written off and they stormed back in style to delight an enthralled crowd.

The contrast in style was evident from the outset, with Spain's tactical mastery pitted against an Iranian team packed full of quick, skilful players adept at striking on the counter-attack. The first evidence of the Asians' intentions came when they claimed an early lead, Ali Hassanzadeh providing an intelligent assist for Mohammad Taheri to open the scoring.

Spain's coach Venancio Lopez reacted by shuffling his pack, moving Javi Rodríguez, Marcelo and Alvaro into advanced roles, but it was to prove - initially at least - to no avail. Iran remained deadly on the counter and, before Spain knew what had hit them, two classic sucker-punches from Taheri and Vahid Shamsaee had left them three down and on the canvas.

The Europeans bounced back up to show the mettle of true champions, however, with another shrewd Lopez switch paying dividends. Torras provided renewed hope from short range and Borja increased expectations with a low shot that the excellent Iran goalkeeper could'nt keep out.

The stage was set, and no-one was unduly surprised when Torras popped up to fire home the equaliser with four minutes remaining. Spain, in fact, could even have gone on to seal victory but will surely be content with having rescued a draw from the jaws of defeat.

Goal Shamsaee


Iran begin their campaign against Spain on 1 October. They can take heart from the fact that they lost only narrowly, by 2-1, to the world champions in a friendly in August. The team's convincing performance that day gave Shams plenty of confidence. "Spain are exceptional, and they should be the only team that are likely to put us in trouble. But we must avoid any slip-ups against other teams."

Shams, who has overseen five of Iran's nine continental victories and guided them to two FIFA Futsal World Cups, has mixed youth with experience in his squad. "We have retained four players who played at the last World Cup, including the AFC Futsal Player of the Year Vahid Shamsaei, to provide the necessary experience. But the new boys will also have a role to play. I've been particularly impressed with Asghar Hassan Zade and Mostafa Taieb, although they're still only teenagers."

"The young players have gained good competitive experience from this year's AFC Futsal Championship as well as some friendlies, so they shouldn't be intimidated when the World Cup kicks off."

Realistic goals for Team Melli


The past
Iran have monopolised futsal in Asia since its introduction, winning nine of the past ten continental tournaments, their only loss coming when Japan dethroned them in 2006.

The present
Iran's qualification for this year's FIFA Futsal World Cup was a rather straightforward one. They made light work of the group stage, scoring 34 times in only three games while conceding just once in the process. A 9-1 quarter-final triumph over Lebanon sealed their progression to Brazil 2008, before they beat Japan by a solitary goal to reach the Asian final.
There, Iran cruised to a 4-0 win over hosts Thailand to lift the trophy for a record ninth time.

The future
After conquering Asia time and time again under coach Hossein Shams, Iran have set their sights on transferring their continental dominance onto the global stage. To improve on their semi-final performance at Hong Kong 1992, coach Shams is embarking on building a more competent side. With youngsters Ali Asghar Hassan Zade and Mostafa Taiebi complementing veterans such as Mohammad Reza Heidarian, Vahid Shamsaei and Kazem Mohammadi, Shams puts faith into the players' individual talents to break new ground at Brazil 2008. "The team have made very good progress and the players' personal technique is helping out," he said. "We have some very special talents in futsal to count on."

Facts and figures

Key Players
Vahid Shamsaee, Majid Latifi

Qualifying statistics
Iran fired an incredible 48 goals in all six matches en route to the continental title, an average of eight goals per match.

The numbers game
9 - The number of times Iran have won the AFC Futsal Championship.

IRAN Futsal

FIFA World Cup 2008