The countdown is over for the football-crazy Iran as the nation gets to see its women’s team in a first-ever major tournament when it takes on the host India at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium on Thursday.
Iranian women under manager Maryam Irandoost made history in September by beating Jordan in a qualifier to book the country’s place at the event.
Goalkeeper Zohreh Koudaei was the hero of the day as she saved two spot-kicks to lead the country to a 4-2 shootout victory over the Arab Cup champion – following a goalless encounter in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Iran will square off against eight-time champion China – the most decorated team in the history of the competition – on Sunday, before wrapping up its Group A campaign against Chinese Taipei – three-time winner in late 70s – next Wednesday.
A place in the finals, which also serves as the qualifications for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and the New Zealand, could already be considered as a huge success for debutante Iran, which had even been removed from the FIFA Women’s World Ranking for five months – for what the international football governing body described at the time as lack of competitive action for two years – before regaining its spot last April.
However, the Iranian head coach believes her inexperienced, yet spirited, side could even offer more in India.
“We have in-depth planning for every game and won’t be easy opponents for any team in the competition. A decent participation is not our ultimate goal as we’re here to show the power of Iranian women’s football to the whole Asia,” Irandoost said in a press conference ahead of Thursday’s game.
“We may lack the experience of playing at this level, but the Iranians have proved on numerous occasions that the energy and desire of the players, coupled with efforts and determination on the pitch, could lead to good results. We are enjoying the best period of our football.”
Skipper Behnaz Taherkhani echoed her manager’s statement.
“The players are really motivated to play their first match and I believe we have the right attitude to get the best results,” said the 26-year-old defender.
“We are training very hard to get our coveted results. We do believe we could make it by putting our plans into practice. Our aim is to gain a lot of experience from this tournament,” added the skipper.
“We know we have a long way to go, but being here is a good start.”
Four members of the Iranian squad hope to build up on the runner-up finish at last November’s AFC Women’s Club Championship with Shahrdari Sirjan in Jordan during their games in India.
During the tournament in Amman, Jordan, the Iranian club beat India’s Sree Gokulam Kerala 1-0, courtesy of a pinpoint free-kick by Afsaneh Chatr-Noor.
“Playing in the Women’s Club Championship was a very good experience. We entered the tournament with confidence but were a little unlucky and did not win the tournament,” Chatr-Noor said ahead of Thursday’s clash with nine of Gokulam players.
“We showed that by putting in a little effort in planning and showing empathy within team members, any task can be achieved, big or small. The same principles can be applied to the national team,” added the 23-year-old striker.
For the women’s sport in Iran, which has enjoyed global triumphs in multiple individual contests in recent years, Asian Cup participation comes as a further step in the development of team sports, following domination over the AFC Women's Futsal Asian Cup in 2015 and 2018.
“Women’s football is relatively nascent in Iran, and our participation at the Asian Cup will surely contribute to the growth of sport among Iranian females. The team has been in the limelight [in recent months] which will be a massive boost in raising the motivation and desire to succeed among the players,” Irandoost said, adding, “This tournament will trigger tremendous excitement for women’s football in Iran.”