By Michael Church
HONGKONG (Reuters) – Carlos Queiroz will lead Iran into their first post-World Cup international when they meet Uzbekistan in Tashkent on Tuesday despite having failed to sign a new contract with Asia’s number one ranked nation.
The game against the Uzbeks, who recently appointed Hector Cuper as head coach, kicks off Iran’s preparations for January’s Asian Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates, which the Iranians are seeking to win for the first time since 1976.
However, Queiroz and the Iran football federation have yet to put pen to paper on extending the Portuguese coach’s stay.
“Unfortunately, until this moment, it was not possible to finalise this deal between the federation and myself,” Queiroz told a news conference on Monday.
“There is an agreement, a gentleman’s agreement, but it was not possible to finish this deal’s formalities or from an official point of view.”
Queiroz is revered in Iran after taking the country to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and Russia four years later – the only time the nation has qualified for back-to-back World Cups.
However, his relationship with Iranian officials has been fractured throughout his seven-and-a-half year tenure.
In May he announced he would not remain as head coach following the tournament in Russia after the federation offered to extend his contract only until the end of the Asian Cup. Queiroz wants a deal that will see him and his staff stay on through to the next World Cup finals in Qatar in 2022.
The 65-year-old was linked with a number of positions in recent months, with South Korea, Cameroon and Uzbekistan among rumoured suitors after leading Iran to their best-ever World Cup performance.
Iran picked up four points in their three games in Russia, including the country’s second-ever World Cup win with a 1-0 victory over Morocco, to narrowly miss out on a place in the last 16 despite being in the same group as Spain and Portugal.
Captain Masoud Shojaei praised the impact Queiroz has had during his time in charge and stressed the players will not allow the former Real Madrid and Portugal coach to leave without a fight.
“His main achievement is that we have been the best team in Asia for the last six years and we have gained international respect and reputation,” said Shojaei.
“He has not been able to achieve this overnight. He has been working day and night for more than seven years. Him and his staff and their achievements will remain in the history of Iranian football.
“As captain of the Iran team, I am extremely pleased and proud to have him as my coach.
“I must confess that I didn’t know the Uzbekistan federation had negotiated with Mr. Queiroz, but one thing I can guarantee is that we will not allow him to leave our country.”
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Christian Radnedge)