x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Katanec's chance to weigh up Iran

Srecko Katanec, the coach of the national team, is likely to be at Zayed Sports City tonight to run the rule over Iran.

Iran’s coach, Afshin Ghotbi, right, will be imploring his team against Brazil from the touchline this evening.
Iran’s coach, Afshin Ghotbi, right, will be imploring his team against Brazil from the touchline this evening.

ABU DHABI // Srecko Katanec, the coach of the national team, is likely to be at Zayed Sports City tonight to run the rule over Iran, one of the UAE's opponents in next year's Asian Cup. 

The UAE will meet Iran, Iraq and North Korea in Group D of the tournament which kicks off in Doha on January 7. Tonight's match against Brazil forms part of Iran's preparations for the tournament, and they have got off to an impressive start with just one defeat in five matches - a 1-0 friendly defeat to South Korea.

Iran's football federation has long had hopes of a match against the five-time world champion, but in the end the game was organised in a matter of days and only confirmed on September 28. Afshin Ghotbi, the Iran coach, has described it as a "wonderful match for all Iranians as well as people in all Persian Gulf countries". 

"Playing Brazil will measure our abilities," he said. "Iran will put up a good performance against Brazil. Brazil have some of the best players in the world. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase our talent, not just for the 75 million Iranians who will be watching at home but for the many millions more supporters in Asia whom we are proud to be representing."

Iran's players may be disappointed not to be performing in front of their home crowd, but with about 400,000 Iranians living in the United Arab Emirates, they can expect plenty of support tonight. 

Brazil are in a transitional phase after a disappointing World Cup which ended in defeat by Netherlands in the quarter-finals and the departure of Dunga as coach. Mano Menezes has since stepped in and steered his side to a 2-0 victory over the United States in August in his first game in charge.

After four years under Dunga's conservative style, Menezes was lauded in his homeland for adopting a more creative approach against the US and Brazilian fans will be hoping that continues tonight and in Monday's friendly against Ukraine in England. 

Brazil, though, may not have an easy task against an in-form Iran side, and several Brazilian players commented on the oppressive heat as they arrived in Abu Dhabi.

"It's very hot here," Giuliano, the midfielder, told Globoesporte's website. "I didn't think it was going to be like this. It feels like I'm in a sauna." 

Ghotbi has an experienced squad to choose from, led by Javad Nekounam, the 122-capped midfielder, who plays for Osasuna in Spain's La Liga. Karim Bagheri, the 37-year-old midfielder, has announced he will retire from international football after the match.

Bagheri, who played for Iran in the 1998 World Cup, has made 86 appearances and scored 50 goals for the team.

* Associated Press