February 7, 2005
Iran squad in Manama for crucial World Cup qualifier
Iran's football team arrived here Monday to play the first leg of final round 2006 World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain Wednesday.
The Group B qualifier between Bahrain and Iran will kick off at 19:00 (Tehran time) on Feb 9 while their archrival Japan will entertain North Korea in Tokyo on the same day.
Nineteen players, who trained on Kish Island, joined their three Bundesliga-bound players, Mehdi Mahdavikia, Vahid Hashemian, and Fereydoun Zandi, in Manama.
Bahrain surprisingly thrashed Iran 3-0 in Manama in 2001, denying Iran a berth in the finals of 2002 Japan and South Korea World Cup as it was beaten by Ireland 2-1 on aggregate in the two-legged playoffs.
The football-crazy Iran is eagerly waiting for Feb 9 qualifying match.
Talking to Asharq al-Awsat daily, Iran's Croat manager Branko Ivankovic said his side will surely beat Bahrain in Manama.
"We defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina last week in a friendly and I am certain we can take stride on the right path and toward 2006 World Cup finals."
Veteran midfielder Khodadad Azizi said Iran will beat Bahrain in 2006 World Cup qualifier to forget the bitter loss in 2001.
Azizi, who talked to IRNA, added Iran will take a major stride toward World Cup finals with a win over Bahrain in the first leg.
"Bahrain now plays football more professionally than they did in 2002 and Iran should be alert," warned the nimble midfielder adding "Bahraini footballers shone in Asian Nations Cup in China, showing they have made good progress in recent years.
"No doubt, Bahrainis will wage psychological war against Iran in Manama with the aim of extracting point(s) in their last-stage World Cup qualifying match."
All qualifying matches are important, said the ranking official, warning that Iran should not underestimate any team.
Mehralizadeh said, "We should draw lesson from unfortunate experience in Bahrain and help our national team qualify for 2006 World Cup finals.
"As the sports chief, I will do my best to raise the players' spirits and will accompany the team in Manama."2325/1432