A new-look Iran is set to begin a new chapter in its illustrious history of recent years when the Asian Men's Volleyball Championship gets underway in the Japanese cities of Chiba and Funabashi on Sunday.
The defending champion will step into the competition on the back of two frustrating tournaments in the past four months.
Under Russian head coach Vladimir Alenko, the Asian powerhouse finished 12th in the 16-team table of the Volleyball Nations League (VNL) in Italy, before failing to progress beyond the group phase at the Tokyo Olympics in early August.
Indeed, Iran has only managed to win seven matches in 20 outings since the start of the VNL’s preliminary round in May.
New head coach Behrouz Ataei, who led Iran to a memorable world under-21 title in 2019, will be the first Iranian to take charge of the national team in 11 years – and only the second in two decades – since late coach Hossein Ma’dani led the country to an Asian Games silver in 2010.
Of the 19 players representing Iran at the Tokyo Games, only five – Milad Ebadipour, Meisam Salehi, Ali-Asghar Mojarrad, Saber Kazemi, and Javad Karimi – will be part of the squad at the Asian championship.
World-class setter Saeed Maroof called time on his international career after the Tokyo setback, while Ataei decided also decided to rest middle blocker Seyyed Mohammad Mousavi and outside hitter Amir Ghafour for the event.
Iran, which has won the competition on three occasions in the previous five editions, now sees Japan reemerge as a tough opponent in the continent.
Iran was beaten in five sets by Japan on the final day of the group stage at the Olympics, having suffered a straight-set VNL defeat against the Asian side two months before.
Iran has also been overtaken by Japan in the FIVB Men’s World Ranking as the top Asian side since the end of the Olympics.
Ataei’s men will begin their campaign against Hong Kong on Sunday in Pool B, before taking on Thailand and Pakistan in the following days.
The host is pitted against India, Qatar, and Bahrain in Pool A, with Australia – runner-up in 2019 – facing China, Sri Lanka, and Kuwait in Pool C.
Pool D will see South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia squaring off for the knockout spots.