Abu Dhabi (AFP) – Carlos Queiroz says his in-form Iran side should not be labelled favourites to win their Asian Cup quarter-final with China on Thursday, a match he described as “the game of our lives”.
Asia’s top-ranked side, Iran have played by far the tournament’s slickest football to date and appear on track to lift the trophy for the first time since 1976, when they completed a hat-trick of triumphs.
But Queiroz insisted Wednesday that rankings and statistics would count for little against China in Abu Dhabi.
“We’re not the favourites,” shrugged the former Real Madrid manager.
“There are no favourites when you play a winner-takes-all game like this. We always try to be humble and respectful,” added Queiroz, who is expected to take up the Colombia job after the Asian Cup.
“You can’t win or lose games with statistics or rankings — what counts is the inspiration of the players, their character, who controls their emotions the best.”
However, China coach Marcello Lippi, also expected to leave his post at the end of the tournament, called Iran “clear favourites” to win.
“I’m always proud when I hear words like this from such a great coach,” smiled Queiroz, whose Iran side have yet to concede a goal in four matches at this Asian Cup.
“But these games are cup finals — they have no history, no past. We need to play with heart and be mentally cold,” said the Portuguese.
“It’s important for us to start the game with freedom, to be free to take risks and make decisions — we have to enjoy it and let the football flow.”
– ‘Game of our lives’ –
Queiroz, who has been coach of Iran since 2011, promised his team would not repeat the mistakes of four years ago when they crashed out at the same stage on penalties to bitter rivals Iraq.
“The difference this time is we are going to be more alert,” said the 65-year-old.
“It will be a tough game against a team of giants — it’s the most important game of our lives.”
Iran captain Masoud Shojaei backed “Team Melli” to end a 43-year title drought.
“Maybe the small details have cost us at previous Asian Cups,” he said.
“But this Iran team is very united with a very strong team spirit. We are extremely humble, there’s no selfishness among the players. We have a big dream to make the nation proud and we don’t want to go home early.”
Lippi was similarly philosophical about Thursday’s quarter-final, where VAR (video assistant referee) technology will make its Asian Cup debut.
“Iran are the best team in Asia and we will have to play a perfect match,” said the 70-year-old, who steered his native Italy to World Cup glory in 2006.
“We can’t afford to make any mistakes because Iran are so dangerous. But in football you never know, anything can happen.”
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