Courtesy: The NationalTop two-ranked teams meet in the semi-final of AFC Futsal Championship
by Ahmed RizviMay 29, 2012
DUBAI - Victor Hermans, the Thailand coach, is confident his young team can beat the overwhelming favourites Iran when Asia's No 1 and No 2 ranked teams clash in today's semi-final of the AFC Futsal Championship.
Thailand came from two goals down to beat Lebanon in their quarter-final yesterday, while 10-time champions Iran knocked-out Uzbekistan 6-3 in an engrossing game at Al Shabab.
The Thais have won just three of their 17 official matches against Iran, losing 12 including the 2008 final, but Hermans is convinced his team can upstage Team Melli.
"All the games start at 0-0," said Herman, who worked in Iran in the late 1990s and helped them set up their futsal programme. "We will go out there to win and I believe we can win this game.
"Of course, Iran are a very good team. They have good speed and fitness, but I believe in my team and I am proud of how they have performed here.
"They are here to win every game they play and to show what they can do, and with this win we have proved we deserve to be at the World Cup."
Ali Sanei, the Iran coach, was equally confident about his own team's chances of reaching Friday's final and taking home the trophy for the 11th time in 12 Asian championships.
"We know the Thailand team very well," Sanei said. "We have already analysed them. The head coach of Thailand, Mr Victor Hermans, is a very good coach and very well known.
"We know how he is going to arrange his team and how he is going to work with his team. Hopefully, we will be able to get the result we need against them. We are ready for this game against Thailand."
Sanei conceded his side were given a tough time by Uzbekistan, the team they defeated in the final of the last Asian championship in 2010, and he said: "As you go deeper into a tournament, the matches will get more difficult; it will be another final against Thailand."
This was one of the earliest exits in the Asian championship for Uzbekistan, who have finished runners-up three times and Jose Mendez, their coach, blamed the team's performance in their opening game against Kuwait for the disappointment.
"I told my players right now, 'We did not lose our chance to go to the World Cup today; we lost that chance in the first game against Kuwait'," Mendez said. "We did not play a good game and missed a lot of chances.
"We lacked energy and focus. We drew that game [1-1] and this is why we finished second in the group. Finishing second meant playing Iran.
"I think Iran started the game much better than us. We were a bit nervous and could not play as well as we should because of the pressure of the game."
Steven Knight, the Australia coach, is looking for his doughty bunch of amateurs to spring a surprise on Japan in today’s semi-final at Al Wasl club.
The Australians, who have managed just around 40 hours of training coming into the tournament, defeated Kuwait 3-2 in extra time last night to set-up a clash with the 2006 champions Japan, who defeated Kyrgyzstan 1-0 in the other quarter-final.
Kuwait and Australia were locked 2-2 after 40 minutes of regulation time, but in the second minute of extra time, Daniel Fogarty scored what proved to be the winner for the Aussies.
“For us, it was really intense,” Knight said. “I think we have done extremely well to reach the semi-finals and I am extremely happy with the results.
“This win gives us a chance of getting on the podium and obviously Japan is our first challenge. So we will go out and do our best. We would like to play Iran in the final.”
The four semi-finalists at this championship get an automatic berth at November’s World Cup in Thailand, but since the Thais were already assured of their place in the tournament as hosts, the fourth berth from this tournament will go to Kuwait, the Group D winners who boast the best record among the four losing quarter-finalists in this event.
Kuwait played the last three minutes of the game in their own half, passing the ball between themselves to make sure they did not lose by more than one goal. Had Australia scored one more, Kyrgyzstan, who lost 1-0 to Japan, would have made the grade.
The Kuwait coach Luis Fonseca defended those tactics and said: “I just wanted my country to go to the World Cup. The responsibility for this lies with the people who make the rules.
“If the game and gone to penalties and we had lost 5-1, we would have been out because those goals would have counted. That is incredible.
“I apologise for those last three minutes. It’s not my way of playing and I am not very happy about having to qualify in this manner.
“I would have been happier if we had qualified for the World Cup by beating Australia.”
Courtesy: The NationalIran 'took the sport very seriously' from the start
by Ahmed RizviMay 29, 2012
It is not often a coach is able to put on a brave face after his team have just been thrashed 9-0. But Steven Knight, the Australia coach, came in smiling for his post-match conference after the Futsalroos were given a masterclass by Iran in their final group game on Sunday.
"You can go and watch that every night," said Knight, who has represented Australia at two Futsal World Championships. "Wouldn't want to play against them every night though. It was just wonderful."
If the Iranian futsal team was fishing for compliments, they could not have asked for a better one. But given their absolute domination of the sport in Asia, they are probably used to such accolades.
Ranked No 6 in the world, Team Melli, who boast futsal's leading goalscorer in Vahid Shamsaee among many other top-class players, are in a league of their own.
They have won all but one of the 11 AFC Futsal Championships up to now and they look all set to add another after cruising into the semi-finals with a 6-3 win over Uzbekistan yesterday.
On the global stage, the Iranians have featured in five Fifa Futsal World Championships, reaching the semi-finals on their first appearance in 1992. They won the first Confederations Cup in Libya in 2009, and reached the finals of Grand Prix de Futsal, known as the Futsal Mini-World Cup, in 2007 and 2009.
"For me, Iran are one of the three best teams in the world, alongside Brazil and Spain," said Uzbekistan's Spanish coach Jose Mendez. "They have a lot of experienced players who have played in the World Cup many times and many big tournaments."
The Iranian dominance, of course, has not come about by chance. According to Abbas Torabian, the president of the Iran Futsal Association, it has taken a lot of hard work and a lot of planning, and they have learnt from playing against the best.
"From the beginning in 1998, we took the sport very seriously," Torabian said. "We realised we had to play against the best teams if we wanted to improve. If we were going to lose, no problem. But we wanted our players to see these big teams and big players, and learn how to stand up against them.
"We now have three national teams as well as a very strong league. We have a super league, a first division and a second division, and we even have a youth division, which keeps producing and increasing our pool of players.
"That's why sometimes, our coach goes crazy trying to choose the national team. But it is a good headache to have."
In Iran, thousands of fans pack the stands to watch the local league matches. There were a few hundred of them at the Al Shabab stadium as well and, together with the Uzbek fans, they created a great atmosphere, one that would have been worthy of the final.
Both teams were indeed expected to meet in the final; they did so in the last Asian championship in 2010, which Iran had clinched 8-3. But Kuwait surprised everyone by topping Uzbekistan's group and the central Asians were left with the onerous task of upstaging the 10-time champions.
In 16 previous matches between the Asian No 1 and No 4 teams, Uzbekistan had beaten Iran just once and lost 15.
The other top Asian teams have not fared any better against Iran. Japan have lost 13 of the 18 matches between the two sides and won only three.
Thailand, ranked No 2 in Asia, have been beaten in 12 of the 17 matches they have played against Iran and won three.
Australia, the continent's No 5, have lost both their matches against Iran.
Outside Asia, Iran have beaten every team in the world - Spain, Portugal and Italy included - except the masters Brazil, who once had a 34-year unbeaten run in futsal. That winning streak came to an end at the 1985 World Championships in Australia, when Paraguay beat Brazil for the title.
Iran's domination of Asian futsal, of course, is similar to Brazil's. The only Asian Championship they have failed to win was in 2006 in Uzbekistan, when Japan stopped them in the semi-finals.
The gap between Iran and the rest, however, is closing, according to Mendez.
"It's true that there is a big difference between Iran and the rest of the teams," he said. "But gradually, teams will get closer to them as well.
"I remember, Iran would win very easily in the Asian Championship. But now they have to run more and fight more to win their games."
Ali Sanei, the Iran coach, concedes the level of the other teams is rising, but he does not expect their country's domination to come to an end anytime soon.
"Of course, the other teams are making good progress," he said. "We are improving as well, but our progress will not be as visible since we are already at the top.
"Wherever in the world, whenever they talk about futsal, one of the names is Iran."
Posted by Luca Ranocchiari