TEHRAN, Carlos Queiroz is not a man you’d want to get on the wrong side of. It is a few moments after his Iran side had beaten South Korea during the final round of World Cup 2014 qualification. The qualification process, as it always is in Asia, is long, fraught and paved with controversy and the final game of the final group stage between South Korea and Iran was telling.
Bad blood had existed between the two coaches ever since South Korea complained about visa issues and the training conditions at the reverse fixture in Tehran. For the return, Queiroz was photographed with a picture of South Korean coach Choi Kang-Hee pinned to his chest and vowed to eliminate the Koreans.
In the end, a 1-0 victory for Team Meli was enough for both to qualify. As Iran’s players ran on the pitch to celebrate their fourth ever World Cup qualification Queiroz instead ran towards the South Korean bench, punching the air and flipping the bird at his opposite number. He was dragged away before he could start a riot.
In many ways the incident summed up Queiroz’s coaching career over the past decade: bouts of angry self-destruction punctuated by hints that the Mozambique-born Portuguese coach is built for great things.
The Iran job was itself a chance for Queiroz to rebuild his reputation. After leaving the protective wing of Alex Ferguson after a few years as his assistant at Manchester United he took the Real Madrid job.
Queiroz was seen as a cerebral but fiery character who could handle the big personalities at the Bernabéu. He lasted one season before being sacked.
He would later steer Portugal to the 2010 World Cup finals, but only after beating Bosnia 1-0 home and away in a play-off. They were eliminated in the second round against Spain.
He would later be fired, not so much for Potugal’s underwhelming performance, but after a bizarre incident involving Portuguese drug testers who turned up at Queiroz’s training camp before they had left for South Africa. An altercation took place.
A report found that “Mr Queiroz uttered some very distasteful and sexually descriptive comments regarding the mother of the [Portuguese Anti Doping Agency] president.” He was suspended for six months and fired. Although CAS later overturned the ban, he was on the road again, looking for work. It was Iran that took the chance.
In many way the Iran job is almost impossible. For one there’s the wild, almost impossible expectations of this football crazy nation. Over 100,000 people regularly attend matches at Tehran’s huge Azadi Stadium. In fact, Iran had the highest attendances of any nation in qualification.
Then there’s the political situation which tends to bleed into football too. Their second World Cup at France 1998 saw Iran play USA. Victory followed and a million people took to the streets.
In 2006, with the football-mad president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in support, the Iranian team was dogged by protests from Jewish groups throughout Germany over controversial comments from the former president about Israel.
When Iran narrowly missed the 2010 World Cup, Iran’s players wore green wrist bands in solidarity with the Green Revolution that was raging in their homeland. When they returned to Iran, pro-regime newspapers called for them to be jailed as traitors.
What has never been in doubt is the talent in the Iranian team. Queiroz has had to rebuild following the golden generation of players that have now largely retired. The likes of former Bayern Munich midfielder Ali Karimi and, before him, striker Ali Daei, have long gone replaced by an inexperienced team that, nonetheless, came through what Queiroz describes as “crossing the hell” of Asian qualification.
Dutch-Iranian striker Reza Ghoochannejhad has been Queiroz’s great find. It was he who scored the winning goal in Korea. Only the captain, former Osasuna defender Javad Nekounam remains from that past.
Iran has never made it to the second round of World Cup qualification before but have been drawn in a group that at least gives them hope. Argentina are favourites, but Nigeria and Bosnia could be overcome.
“Without special prep Iran doesn’t have any chance [of the second round],” said Queiroz in a recent interview. “We have a very specific top high quality preparation. It is possible to raise the capabilities of our players. It is the only way we can bring joy and prestige.”
Yet the same problems afflict Iran. Top nations refuse to play them in friendlies, meaning they are only truly tested at the highest stage and there has been some resistance to Queiroz bringing in foreign born players.
”In a conservative society like Iran, it is not easy to talk about reform and change of habits.” said Queiroz. “But my commitment to Iranians is to make them happy. This is our World Cup, this is our time to tell the world that Iran is a football country.”
It is time, too, for Queiroz to finally prove his potential. He may never get a better chance.
The Iran Project is not responsible for the content of quoted articles.