First, they were picked in possibly the toughest group at the World Cup. Then they failed to attract any high-quality opposition in friendly matches.
Now in Russia, Iran have been hit with sportswear sanctions from the United States, preventing players from wearing their favourite boots.
No wonder Iran coach Carlos Queiroz spoke of the “hurdles” his players have to clear as they compete in back-to-back World Cups for the first time.
“We do not allow these problems to become justifications, excuses,” Queiroz said, as Iran prepared for their Group B match against Morocco in St Petersburg. “All these situations we’ve been facing, we have been using as an opportunity to develop and an inspiration to make our players stronger and full of will. We are sure that we have to be a family and keep united.”
Queiroz, Iran’s longest-serving manager and a former Real Madrid coach and Manchester United assistant, is popular but will be feted even more if he manages to guide the team out of a group containing European champions Portugal and Spain.
He has long complained about Iran’s lack of international exposure and the country’s problems – mainly for political reasons – with arranging matches against other countries. This month, a warm-up match against Greece in Istanbul was abruptly cancelled, reportedly because of an ongoing dispute between the Greeks and neighbouring Turkey.
Iran’s football federation threatened legal action, saying it inflicted “serious damage” to the team’s World Cup preparations, then saw Kosovo – the supposed replacement for Greece – also pull out.
Adding to the disruption, Nike said it would not be providing boots to Iran for the World Cup because of American sanctions currently in place against the country.
Queiroz was angered by the decision and has addressed his unhappiness with Fifa.
“Players get used to their sports equipment, and it’s not right to change them a week before such important matches,” he said. “We are using all of the hurdles as a source of inspiration.”
Iran were the first team to qualify for the World Cup – exactly a year ago yesterday – after topping Asian qualifying, and are looking to improve on a record that has seen them win only one of their 12 matches at World Cups. The famously draw 1-1 with Scotland at the 1978 tournament in Argentina.