AFC - Ali Daei was full of praise for coach Carlos Queiroz ahead of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 qualifier with Uzbekistan on Monday in a game that will see Team Melli qualify for the tournament should they secure all three points.
Iran legend Daei, who is now head coach at Saipa FC, played 149 times for his country and scored a record 109 goals – a feat that is by far and away the most anyone has ever scored for their national side and 25 ahead of second-placed Ferenc Puskas of Hungary.
The current team, though, look set to create their own piece of history as victory in front of home support at Azadi Stadium will guarantee successive appearances at the FIFA World Cup for the first time.
“We are so close to the World Cup; in recent years Mr. Queiroz and his colleagues have done so much for Team Melli,” said Daei, who starred at both the 1998 and 2006 tournaments.
“I think he has brought discipline and determination to the national team, but one of the most important things he’s done is bring in so many young players and changed the major players of the team.
“I have a very good relationship with him and always support him. He’s come to my team’s training at times; I love people who are trying to help our national team and he is one of them.”
Daei first appeared at the FIFA World Cup in 1998 when IR Iran picked up their first-ever win at the competition following a 2-1 victory of the U.S. in Lyon.
After missing out in 2002 with a team Daei considers perhaps the best he played in during his 13-year international career, IR Iran returned to the tournament in 2006 but this time picked up just a solitary point from three games as Team Melli again exited at the first hurdle.
It would be eight years until the country advanced to the global showpiece again where, under the guide of Queiroz in Brazil, another first-round elimination ensued despite winning many plaudits after coming within a minute of securing a draw with Argentina.
But, ahead of what looks likely to be the first time the side have achieved back-to-back qualifications, optimism is building that IR Iran could be a force to be reckoned with in Russia.
“I’m impressed by so many different players [in the current team],” said Daei. I look at them as a team and not individual players because we have a defence line and an attack line.
“We are one of the best sides in Asia, along with Australia, because we haven’t lost against any Asian teams in recent years.
“I hope if we qualify for the World Cup then we can get to the second round for the first time.”
IR Iran are four points clear at the top of Group A with just three games remaining and would remain favourites to progress even without a win on Monday.
But having not been beaten throughout the qualifying campaign, boasting a defence that has yet to be breached and a 100% home record, the stage is set for Azadi Stadium to be at its rapturous best when playing host to the Uzbeks.
“In front of so many fans it’s so hard to play for away teams but for our players it makes them feel great to play there,” added Daei.
“It’s very difficult for the visiting teams and I’m sure on Monday we will beat Uzbekistan and qualify for the World Cup.”