By Nick Mulvenney
ABUDHABI (Reuters) – Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has moved to dampen the level of expectation surrounding his team at the Asian Cup by saying they are not even among the top three favourites to win the continental crown.
Team Melli have been in impressive form in the United Arab Emirates, reaching Monday’s semi-final against Japan without having conceded a single goal in five matches.
In Thursday’s quarter-final, they ruthlessly dismissed China 3-0 — a scoreline that, if anything, flattered Marcello Lippi’s side.
Iran have been to the semi-finals five times since they won the last of their three Asian Cup titles in 1976, however, and the canny Portuguese coach is determined there will be no complacency in his camp.
“There are only three favourites to win this competition and they are Japan, Korea Republic and Australia,” he told reporters after the win at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.
“For us to be labelled favourites is not correct, it is an ill-fitting tag.
“In front of us we have just another game. Of course, the game has added significance in terms of enthusiasm and excitement, but when the whistle goes you simply have to play.
“This is especially true as now we know the big sharks will come for us — the favourites of Asian football — Japan and Korea Republic are coming for us, so we need to do more.”
The former Manchester United assistant and Real Madrid, a seasoned campaigner with almost eight years as Iran coach under his belt, emphasised the importance of gradual improvement throughout a tournament.
“I always say to my team that after a match the Iranian shirt must always be in a higher place,” he added. “What we did against China will not work (against Japan), so we need to ensure that we improve game after game.”
Iran will be without Mehdi Taremi for the semi-final clash with four-times champions Japan in Al Ain after the striker picked up a second yellow card against China.
Queiroz accepted the decision to caution the 26-year-old, who has scored three goals at the tournament, but said Asian Football Confederation (AFC) rules that bans suspended players from the stadium were excessive.
“It’s never good when you lose a player,” he said.
“But two yellow cards does not make a player a criminal, to not even let him inside stadium, no-one can understand this decision.
“I make this humble request to the AFC to review this decision.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by …)