Steven Beitashour’s journey to the 2014 FIFA World Cup was littered with stories of proving people wrong. And he’s hoping that 43rd-ranked Iran, one of the least acclaimed teams in the tournament, will follow suit this month in Brazil.
Beitashour, Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s lone representative at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, knows Argentina is likely to come out on top in Group F. The South American powerhouse are one of the tournament favourites for a reason, he admitted.
“It’s not hype for nothing,” Beitashour told reporters on a conference call this week. “I think everyone expects that out of them. But the second spot in our group is up for grabs. We have three hungry teams that are trying to get it. That’s what makes that first game so important.”
For Beitashour’s Iranian side, that first game is set for Monday at 12 p.m. PT against Nigeria. The other team vying for one of Group F’s top two spots is Bosnia and Herzegovina – a squad some pundits have labelled as a possible darkhorse.
Ever since Beitashour arrived in Brazil with the Iranian men’s national team in the first week of June, the focus has squarely been on preparing for Nigeria, said Beitashour.
Has that left him any time to soak in his first World Cup experience?
“I don’t know what I should be expecting,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m having too much fun or not enough fun. The way I carry myself is … I’ve got a job to do and I want to do it to the best of my abilities. Maybe I’m too focused. I don’t know.”
Although Beitashour isn’t sure what to expect on a personal level, it’s no secret what people can expect from Iran. First and foremost, Beitashour said they’re a team that’s disciplined and organized defensively.
He’s not kidding. Team Melli, as they go by, kept 10 clean sheets in 16 games on their route to qualification – they topped their group in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualifiers by conceding just twice in eight games. Iran only scored eight goals during the same period, the least among the four AFC teams that advanced.
“You look at other teams and you look at the individual players and they definitely have superstars,” Beitashour said. “I don’t necessarily know if we have superstars, but we definitely have a team. Any time you have that, I’d say a team can beat individuals.”
As noted, Iran isn’t known for scoring many goals. It’s somewhat ironic, therefore, that two of their most recognized players are attacking-minded ones.
There’s midfielder/winger Ashkan Dejagah, who’s appeared in 43 English Premier League matches with Fulham over the last two years – not to mention Dutch-Iranian striker Reza Ghoochannejhad. The man they call “Gucci” has bagged 10 goals in 14 appearances with the Iranian men’s national team.
“He’s a great player,” Beitashour said. “He works hard, he’s dedicated, and really a good professional not just on the field but off the field. The stuff you see him do off the field really shows once he gets to the pitch. I think he’s really important for us because we’re known for our defending and we might not have 20 chances like some other teams. We might just have three, four or five chances. And he’s one of those players that doesn’t need many chances to score.”
But the most recognizable name of the bunch might just be Iran’s manager Carlos Queiroz, whose resume includes coaching stints at Manchester United (as an assistant) and Real Madrid. Queiroz, who is considered to be the ultimate tactician, is no stranger to the World Cup, having coached South Africa in 2002 and his native Portugal in 2010.
“I loved [working with him] from the first day I went over there in Iran,” Beitashour said. “Just the professionalism, the experience he has, the respect that he gets from not only the players but from the coaching staff and all the other teams … it’s well deserved. Everything he says on the field or off the field just makes sense. The guys just listen when he talks. I think that’s what really brings us together. It starts with him.”
Will that translate into success this month in Brazil? The answer to that question should become clearer on Monday. Beitashour said he wasn’t sure whether or not he’d be in the starting lineup against Nigeria. If he is, though, chances are he’ll prove someone wrong.
“I’m just trying to work hard every day,” he said. “If the coach calls my number, I’ll definitely be ready.”
It’s not too late to participate in the best sporting experience in Vancouver. Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including prorated season tickets ($220), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets, and a youth soccer half-season ticket. Single-match tickets start at $22, subject to applicable fees. For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.