(Reuters) – Carlos Queiroz’s tempestuous three-year spell in charge of Iran is expected to end after mission impossible at the World Cup, where he attempts to steer the team to the knockout stages for the first time and silence his critics.
Despite leading the Iranians to a fourth World Cup finals appearance by winning their Asian qualifying group last year, the Mozambique-born Queiroz has seen his tactics and team selections placed under continual scrutiny.
However, the 61-year-old firebrand coach has never wavered in his coaching beliefs in a career which has seen him lead Portugal, South Africa and Real Madrid, as well as serving as assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Ferguson, for one, had rare praise for him.
In his autobiography, published last October, the former United boss wrote: “Carlos Queiroz was brilliant. Just brilliant. Outstanding. An intelligent, meticulous man.
“He was good for me. He was a Rottweiler. He was the closest you could be to being the Manchester United manager without actually holding the title.”
It is no surprise that someone who could enthrall Ferguson has met his critics head on in the Iranian media, battled for access to his players with domestic team managers and had the last hurrah in a public spat with his South Korean counterpart Choi Kang-hee ahead of their final qualifier.
That final fixture in Ulsan last June showcased the positive aspects that Queiroz has brought to the Iranian team.
A solid defensive rearguard keeping the creative home side at bay, before Dutch-raised striker Reza Ghoochannejhad scored with the visitors only chance of the match to grab a 1-0 win and a berth in Brazil.
Queiroz ran to the opposition bench to celebrate victory in a game whose buildup was dominated by his disagreement with Choi, who had accused the Iranians of bad manners in the reverse fixture.
He remains a passionate man desperate to succeed and dispel any notion that he is an aging coach looking to cash in on his previous experience with one last pay day before retirement.
“In the last three years despite all the difficulties, Iran has showed the number one most important thing in the soccer world – passion,” Queiroz said of his time in charge at the Asian Cup draw in March.
“If you have passion for the game, that is always a good starting point. With the passion of the players and the fans, we were able to qualify for the World Cup.
“You don’t see many countries where they play with 80, 90, 100,000 in the stadium.
“When the two biggest teams in Tehran play, 5,000, 10,000 people are in the stadium the night before. That is amazing. We work for the people, that is why it is one of the most attractive jobs I’ve had in my life.”
Ghoochannejhad’s winning strike was one of nine goals the Tehran-born forward, who moved to Netherlands as a child, has scored since making his debut at home to the Koreans at the end of 2012.
Ghoochannejhad, who played for the Dutch under-19s, is Queiroz’s greatest success from scouring the Iranian diaspora to help solve their attacking problems and refresh a team that lost one of their greats, Ali Karimi, to retirement during the qualifying campaign.
Queiroz has also called up Fulham’s former Germany youth international Ashkan Dejagah to add creativity, while German-born goalkeeper Daniel Davari has won caps in recent months along with Californian-born defender Steven “Mehrdad” Beitashour.
A cagey approach helped Iran beat Qatar, Lebanon and then South Korea to reach Brazil, but Queiroz’s charges will face a much sterner examination at the finals where they have been drawn against Argentina, Bosnia and Nigeria in Group F.
“We go there with one thing in mind, to qualify for the second round, I know this is not realistic, this is fantasy, this is not even rational,” Queiroz added.
“But I don’t have any other way to raise the concentration and attitude of those around me. If we do it or not will be another story.”
Iran’s sole World Cup victory came against political foes the United States in 1998, and any smash-and-grab win in Brazil would arguably be Queiroz’s greatest managerial achievement.
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