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AFC - Having amassed virtually every accolade in Asian futsal, Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ahmad Esmaeilpour is arguably one of the most recognisable faces in the game. 

The 28-year-old elevated his continental calibre to world stardom when he added the FIFA Futsal World Cup Bronze Ball award to his glistening trophy cabinet.

Eight months later, from Colombia to Vietnam, Sanaye Giti Pasand’s No.10 still possesses the same steeling focus and determination, as he grabbed a brace to steer his side to a 4-2 victory over Qatar’s Al Rayyan in the 2017 AFC Futsal Club Championship Vietnam semi-finals on Friday.

“It was not an easy match. Some people might say we are favourites but the level of competition is improving every single year, which means it gets harder every year. But for me, I welcome this challenge. Success never comes easy. I know I have to work hard to be at my best every single time.”

There are few in the competition who can match Ahmad Esmaeilpour’s pristine record. Beginning with the competition’s inaugural final in 2010, the Iranian rallied to an impressive streak of four successive finals, winning two titles, first with Foolad Mahan in 2010, before clinching Giti Pasand’s solitary title in 2012 where he finished as the tournament’s top-scorer.

“Yes, I still remember that year. It was a very special moment and competition, one that ranks in my all-time best memories. Everything was perfect, the team were excellent, the atmosphere, the results. I still remember it very clearly like it was yesterday,” said the towering figure with a big grin.  

“But 2012 is a very long time ago. Our fans have been very patient with us. This is the time, now is the time to win this competition again. Having played in a championship team, I rate this group of current teammates up there with the best.”

Like a true legend of the game, Esmaeilpour continues to exude a sense of ambition and drive synonymous throughout his career, suggesting there are new heights yet to scale: “If we want a chance to be the best ever, then we need to win this competition to close the gap with Nagoya, who have three titles. They are not here this time so this is the perfect chance to win.

“But it all starts with our second title win this Sunday. That is the priority, without a doubt.”

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