News ID: 323059
Published: 1006 GMT July 24, 2022

Upbeat by VNL display, Iran eyeing success at upcoming world event

Upbeat by VNL display, Iran eyeing success at upcoming world event
Iranian players celebrate a victory over USA at the Volleyball Nations League in Sofia, Bulgaria, on June 23, 2022.

Sports Desk

Iran will be looking to build on a promising performance at the Volleyball Nations League when heading to the FIVB Volleyball World Championship in just over a month.

Iran will kick off its campaign at the flagship international event of the sport – hosted by Poland and Slovenia – against Argentina on August 27 in Pool F, also featuring Egypt and the Netherlands.

Having made all-round changes to the squad that failed to progress beyond the group phase at the Tokyo Olympics last year, Iran made it to the VNL Finals, only to suffer a heartbreaking quarterfinal defeat against Poland in a five-set thriller in Bologna, Italy, on Thursday.

“We had 13 exhausting matches in the space of 50 days,” Iran head coach Behrouz Ataei, who took over from Russian Vladimir Alekno after the Olympics, said after Thursday’s setback, adding: “We improved game by game, which was most important to me, and proved to be capable of competing with the best teams in the word.”

The VNL start was not quite impressive for Ataei’s new-look team as a straight-set defeat against Bulgaria in the second week opener – a third loss in five games – left the Asian powerhouse struggling in the bottom half of the 16-team table of the preliminary round.

However, a 3-0 win over volleyball giant USA kick-started a run of five victories – including a five-set triumph over Poland in Gdansk – in seven matches for Iran, which finished seventh in the table for a last-eight spot.

Some fresh faces burst onto the scene for Iran, drawing praise from opponents and international pundits, while captain Milad Ebadipour was arguably in the form of his career.

Opposite spiker Amin Esmaeilnejad was the star of the show for the country, chipping in 215 points throughout the tournament to finish second to Nimir Abdel-Aziz in the top scorers chart.

Amirhossein Esfandiar, a world U21 champion with Iran in 2019, also excelled in his senior debut on the international stage, while Mehdi Jelveh and Amirhossein Toukhteh did a decent job in replacing veteran middle blocker Seyyed Mohammad Mousavi.

Mostafa Karkhaneh, the technical manager of the Iranian national teams, believes the introduction of a new group of young players was “the only way forward” for Iran.

“When we first met [to discuss the future of the team], we concluded that we had no choice but to replace the golden generation of the Iranian volleyball – including Saeed Marouf, Mohammad Mousavi, and Amir Ghafour – if we’re to succeed against volleyball powers,” former Iran head coach said in a televised interview on Saturday.

“We missed three key players in Ali-Asghar Mojarrad, Meysam Salehi, and Javad Karimi for the VNL due to injury. That’s why we considered the tournament as preparation for the World Championship, so that the head coach would have a deeper insight into his assets,” said Karkhaneh, for whom Iran’s display at the event was beyond expectations.


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