Iran head coach Behrouz Ataei was again given an insight into the sheer size of the overhaul job on his hands after his team fell to a devastating defeat against Japan in the Volleyball Nations League (VNL).
Some 14 hours after beating Australia in four sets for a second victory in the competition, an exhausted Iranian team, clearly lacking determination, was easily beaten by the Asian foe in straight sets (25-20, 25-14, 25-19) in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia.
“We knew this was going to be a tough match. Japan has been playing with the same group of players that took part at the Tokyo Olympics [last year], but we’ve made numerous changes to the squad for the competition,” Ataei said in the post-match press conference.
“The whole team was poor today and that’s probably because there was a short gap between this match and the last one and the players were worn out. We were not even good in attacks and serves, which had been our main strengths in the previous matches,” added the Iranian.
Opposite spiker Yuji Nishida topped the scoring for Japan with 17 points, while captain Ishikawa Yuki chipped in 16 as his team capped off an impressive Week 1 in the second place of the table with three wins in four outings.
Amin Esmaeilnejad contributed 10 points in a blow-par performance by Iran, with outside hitter Morteza Sharifi scoring five.
Sunday’s result left Iran in the 11th spot of the 16-team table.
USA is top with a clean sweep of four victories.
When Ataei was appointed to the job following a disappointing campaign at the Tokyo Games, he made it clear that his top priority would be to lead Iran to success at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Of the 12-man squad in Tokyo, only three – Sharifi, Milad Ebadipour, and Saber Kazemi – were part of the Iranian team in Week 1 of the VNL, as the Asian powerhouse is getting used to life without world-class setter Saeed Ma’roof, Seyyed Mohammad Mousavi, and Amir Ghafour – integral parts of Iran’s success for over a decade – while Ali-Asghar Mojarrad, Meysam Salehi, Mojtaba Mirzajanpour, and Javad Karimi missed the Brasilia trip due to injury.
Sunday’s defeat hinted at a shift of power in the continent, but Ataei, who led Iran to the Asian crown on his debut with a final victory over host Japan last September, remains optimistic about his rebuild project.
“We have a long way ahead of us but we’ll move forward step by step. We won two in four in the first week and I’m confident our performance will improve in the future VNL matches,” said Ataei, the first domestic coach in charge of the national team in 12 years.
Next for Ataei and his men is a visit to Sofia, Bulgaria, for Week 2 – starting June 21 – where Iran will be taking on Bulgaria, USA, Brazil, and Canada.