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Bouzo happy to avoid Iran

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Syrian FA President General Farouk Bouzo admitted he was happy that his side have avoided defending champions Iran in the group stage of this year's West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Championship in Damascus, which starts on August 30.

Syria, this year's hosts, lost 1-0 to Iran in the final of the inaugural event in Jordan in 2000.

Bouzo saw his host side pitted with Iraq and Palestine in Group B at the official draw, which was conducted at the JW Marriott Hotel in Kuala Lumpur and attended by incoming AFC President Mohamed bin Hammam.

"It was a very good draw. All the teams are a similar standard now, but I have to admit it's better to avoid Iran early on," said Bouzo, who is also head of the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) Referees Committee.

"Syria have played them in qualifying for the Asian Cup and the World Cup in recent times, so I'm happy we're up against Palestine and Iraq."

Iran were drawn in Group A along with Jordan, hosts of the 2000 event, and Lebanon, and will start the tournament as favourites. The top two teams from each of the two groups progress to the semi-finals.

Bouzo said the hosts would be well prepared for the tournament. As well as benefiting from home support, the side had been working under head coach Jalal Talebi for over a year. Talebi is the only coach to have won the WAFF Championship, having led his native Iran to victory in the 2000 event before being hired by the Syrian FA last year.

"Talebi has been with the team for more than a year, so we need the team to prove themselves at this tournament," said Bouzo. "The side have recently been preparing by competing in the Friendship Cup in Saudi Arabia, so they're pretty well prepared. We'll try to do our best."

All matches will be played at the Al Abbassiyyine Stadium in Damascus, with the final scheduled for September 7.

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