Iran’s ugly 0-0 draw with Nigeria was met by jeers from disapproving Brazilian fans in the crowd but coach Carlos Queiroz only saw beauty in the fight, determination and discipline shown by his unheralded players.
The African champions dominated the Group F contest at the Baixada arena in Curitiba for long periods but struggled to find a way through the defensively-sound Asians as the World Cup goal-fest ground to a halt.
Queiroz made no apologies for his tactics and defended his players for celebrating the point, only the sixth Iran have claimed in four World Cup appearances, earned with their first clean sheet since their debut in 1978.
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“Football sometimes when you play with great attitude, with commitment, with soul, emotions, tensions can also be an attractive game,” the Mozambique-born coach told reporters.
“Of course people you prefer to see four or five goals, I understand that, but for us we prefer to go home with one point.
“We don’t have players from Liverpool, Chelsea and Lazio in our team. My players they celebrated their hard work, the concentration, the attitude. They deserved to celebrate.”
Despite topping their Asian qualifying group and being the continent’s best ranked side at 43rd in the world, Iran have struggled under the political and economic sanctions placed on the country.
Team Melli only managed to arrange one home friendly, which they lost 2-1 to Guinea in March, since qualifying for the World Cup last year.
A warm-up match in South Africa prior to Brazil was also cancelled without reason. Their limited preparation involved low key matches against Angola, Belarus, Montenegro and Trinidad and Tobago which they came through undefeated.
“We are one nation that comes here without the same conditions as other nations because we can’t even play friendly matches because of the economic restrictions,” Queiroz said.
“My players they deserve sympathy and respect for the things they have been doing. We have problems to have a friendly game.”
Despite their defensive mindset, the Iranians did occasionally threaten, mainly from set pieces, with Reza Ghoochannejhad forcing a good save with a flicked header from a corner in the first half.
Their attacks, though, were limited, but Queiroz said his team had set out to win, with more challenging fixtures against Argentina and Bosnia to come.
“We played a realistic game, with a lot of tactical discipline. I want to praise my players. They suffered but they always played with one thing in their mind: ‘score score score’,” he said.
“Nobody deserved to win the game. I think one point for us and one point for Nigeria was fair.”