Carlos Queiroz has coached Real Madrid, Portugal and Manchester United, but admits the Iran players he developed and moulded into becoming Asia’s top-ranked nation in the world “will be in my heart the rest of my life”.
The Mozambique-born manager stood down from a post he had held since 2011 after defeat to Japan in the Asian Cup 2019 semi-finals on January 28 – having steered Team Melli to the finals of both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.
The 65-year-old Queiroz quoted Frank Sinatra as he made his exit stage left from Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium following his side’s exit from the UAE. Sinatra, one of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century, was known for his famous comebacks, and Queiroz is already on the comeback trail after he was appointed Colombia coach on Thursday.
It is his fifth national team job having coached his native Portugal twice, as well as the UAE, South Africa and Iran.
Iran have risen to No29 in the FIFA world rankings under Queiroz’s guidance, with players like Zenit St Petersburg striker Sardar Azmoun, Brighton winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Al Gharafa’s Mehdi Taremi all courting attention.
But there is also a tangible sense that Iran still failed to fulfill their promise under Queiroz, having come into the Asian Cup as favourites. Four years ago in Australia they were dumped out at the quarter-final stage by Iraq.
Asked what he believes comes next for Iran following his departure, Queiroz replied “a shining future”.
“Next, I see a good future for these Iranian players. The formation is there, there is a lot of things I make happen in these eight years,” he said.
“Facilities, a performance training centre, a generation of players that in the next eight years will make something special. The most important thing is the legacy of this eight years. Players started playing in Europe. A shining future for Iranian football if they keep going.
“Special congratulations and a huge, huge, huge thank you to my players for everything they did. They have done everything all these years, taking into consideration the adversity, the difficulties. The expectations they have.
“My gratitude from my heart and soul goes to my players. They will be in my heart the rest of my life.”
Many felt Team Melli went into last summer’s World Cup in Russia as dark horses, although the odds seemed stacked against them when they were drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ alongside 2010 champions Spain and reigning European champions Portugal, as well as African heavyweights Morocco.
And yet Iran suffered only one defeat, a narrow 1-0 loss to La Roja, with a 1-0 victory over Morocco and 1-1 draw with Portugal seeing them finish on four points, one adrift of the European duo who qualified for the knockout stages.
And Queiroz believes that despite a largely negative view of the country globally, Iran’s footballers have painted the nation with pride.
Queiroz added: “I wish all the best for the people and I think and I feel the way the Iranian players performed in the last two World Cups, they did it for the people.
“And they sent a message to the rest of the world to say that Iranian people deserve to be looked at in a different way by the rest of the world. A different attention and appreciation.
“They built credibility, they built a lot of attention, because they’ve been reliable for eight years and in the right time performing fantastically.
“They earn respect all over the world and for my players it is an opportunity to know the people from outside have shown appreciation for the Iranian players. It is a moment of freedom for them.
“Many, many people project themselves in these players, the way they fight. That’s why they love these players.”
Japan may have failed to win their fifth Asian Cup title after they were shocked by Qatar in Thursday’s final. However, the Samurai Blye showed why they are a class apart and an epitome of sporting behaviour.
After the their 3-1 loss, Japan cleaned their dressing room and also left a note that said “Thank You” in English, Arabic and Japanese.
Always the standards for discipline, cleanliness and exemplary behaviour, this is not the first time Japan has exemplified the term “gracious in defeat”.
Japan were eliminated by Belgium in the last 16 of the World Cup 2018 even after they led by two goals. What could have made news as a fairy-tale turned into a heart-break in the dying moments of the game.
The Asian giants later cleaned the dressing room and left a thank you note.
#SAYONARA: This is the #Japan team's dressing room after they lost to Belgium in the 94th minute at the #FIFA World Cup. They even left behind a note with "thank you" in #Russian.— Mahesh Madusanka 🇱🇰❤️🇯🇵 (@MaheshNegombo) July 3, 2018
(Photo: Twitter/Priscilla Janssens, FIFA coordinator) pic.twitter.com/HnnW5L47eW
Japan proved that this was not a one-off thing, but a routine. Taking a defeat well and showing the hosts some gratitude is something we can all learn from their lead
Deflated Japan skipper Maya Yoshida has stated his questionable late handball, punished by the video-assistant referee, in defeat during the Asian Cup final had reopened old wounds from Southampton’s painful League Cup reversal to Manchester United.
Forward Akram Afif effortlessly converted from 12 yards in the 83rd minute to make it 3-1 to Qatar after the Saints centre-back was, belatedly, adjudged to have illegally stopped 2018 AFC Player of the Year Abdelkarim Hassan’s header at Zayed Sports City. Intent was hard to judge as Yoshida’s outstretched arm made contact when he was looking the other way, but the punishment killed any hope of a comeback by the record four-time champions from 2-0 down.
On club duty back in February 2017 for the League Cup final, Italy striker Manolo Gabbiadini was incorrectly adjudged to be offside when scores were goalless in an eventual 3-2 loss against the Red Devils. There was no VAR that day, providing a different sort of pain for Yoshida.
“Probably one of them,” the 30-year-old replied when asked whether the weekend loss was one of the most disappointing of his career. “Because losing in a cup final or tournament final is really difficult to accept.
“Even when we had Manchester United before in the League Cup final, big defeat. Also, Manolo Gabbiadini scored and it was given offside.
“No VAR. But this is part of football.”
Outstanding strikes from nine-goal record scorer Almoez Ali and Abdulaziz Hatem had put Qatar 2-0 up by 27 minutes, prior to Takumi Minamino’s intricately constructed 69th-minute effort.
From the moment that referee Ravshan Irmatov referred to the outside officials after Yoshida’s block, however, hopes of extra time dissipated.
“It’s the toughest ways to lose in the final,” said Yoshida, marking his 96th international cap in agonising fashion. “First of all, congratulations to Qatar.
“They had the aggression, even though they have only two days in between. We were too passive in the first half and when you concede two goals in the first half, it’s going to be really difficult to come back from that.
“We tried to, but still time wasn’t enough. Especially the third goal, me individually it’s really tough to except, it’s really unlucky to have the handball – but this is the result.”
Yoshida is one of few veterans to have survived the cull that followed the World Cup run to the round of 16, where Samurai Blue alarmed red-hot favourites Belgium.
New head coach Hajime Moriyasu selected an experimental squad for the UAE, that was nevertheless still expected to claim a fifth trophy since 1992.
Amid the pain of defeat, Yoshida hoped the experience had been a formative one for his nation’s fresh hopes.
He said: “Hugely disappointed, today. Me individually and as a team, for all the Japanese people.
“We have to learn from this defeat. We have the Copa America and after the summer we start to have the qualification for the World Cup.
“So we have to learn from this defeat and we try to use this experience for the next Copa America and the World Cup qualification.”
Yoshida will be expected to offer experience alongside emerging Sint-Truiden centre-back Takehiro Tomiyasu, 20, in the challenges to come. He could also be selected as one of three overage players for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.