News ID: 323193
Published: 1038 GMT July 30, 2022

Head coach Ataei defends wholesale changes to Iran squad

Head coach Ataei defends wholesale changes to Iran squad
FIVB

Iran head coach Behrouz Ataei (2nd L) looks on as his players celebrate a point during a victory over Canada at the Volleyball Nations League in Sofia, Bulgaria, on June 25, 2022.

Sports Desk

Iran’s head coach Behrouz Ataei insists he made the right choice to introduce a new-look squad for the recently-finished Volleyball Nations League.

Ataei’s men had a slow start at the annual competition as three defeats in the first five matches had left them struggling in the bottom half of the 16-team table, before a straight-set victory over USA kickstarted a run of five wins in seven, which eventually saw Iran reach the quarterfinals, only to suffer a five-set loss to Poland.

Some pundits criticized Ataei’s selection approach prior to the event, suggesting changes should have happened gradually rather than overnight.

“That was pretty normal for a team, playing in a competition of VNL status for the first time, not to start with the highest quality,” Ataei said in an interview with IRIB TV1, adding: “But some questioned our decision to make wholesale changes to the squad, though I believe it eventually paid off.”

The event saw new faces shine in the Iranian outfit, namely opposite spiker Amin Esameilnejad, who finished second to the Dutch star Nimir Abdel-Aziz in the topscorers chart, as well as middle blockers Mehdi Jelveh and Amirhossein Toukhteh who did a decent job in replacing veteran Mohammad Mousavi.

Ataei believes playing with a fixed group of players over the past years is to blame for a player like Esameilnejad bursting onto the scene at a relatively high age of 26.

“Esameilnejad had clearly not been given the opportunity before. Mohammad-Taher Vadi was among the best setters, while he played in just a couple of VNL matches last year and faced unfair criticism.

“We had some great players in the team who were worn out after participating in so many tournaments throughout the years. Saeed Marouf and Mohammad Mousavi played in the most number of international fixtures over the past nine years. That does not happen anywhere else in the world.

“They became exhausted year by year, while the team never coped with their absence in the lineup, simply because the other players were never given the proper chance.

“A gradual process in bringing in fresh blood over the years would have seen us enjoy 30 to 40 top-notch players for the national team, something we’re missing now,” added the Iranian, who took over from Russian Vladimir Alekno following a disappointing Tokyo Olympics last year, with his ultimate goal being a successful campaign at the Paris Games in two years’ time.

Next for Ataei and his team is the FIVB Men’s Volleyball World Championship – starting August 26 in Poland and Slovenia.

The head coach announced an initial 22-man squad for the competition on Thursday, with Mousavi appearing as a surprise name on the list, though Ataei said he was never left out of contention in the first place.

“I told him right after being appointed to the job that ‘I’m not willing to exhaust you by taking you to every tournament.’ He needs to be looked after as he is well into his 30s. I’m only going to pick him for the World Championship and the Olympic qualifiers,” Ataei said.

Iran will kick off its campaign at the flagship international volleyball event against Argentina in Ljubljana on August 27 in Pool F, which also features Egypt and the Netherlands.

The reigning Asian champion will then take on Egypt and the Netherlands on August 29 and 31.

The top two of the six groups plus the best four third-placed teams will progress to the last-16 round. 

 

   
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