Iran coach hopes Asian Cup win will unite country

Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi wants his team to win the Asian Cup
title to provide ”a source of inspiration” for the divided
Persian nation.

Iran defeated Iraq in its opening Group D match and will play
North Korea on Saturday.

Ghotbi compared Iran’s ambition at this year’s continental
championship to Iraq’s win in 2007. Sectarian violence had raged
across Iraq but the football victory united Iraqis in
celebration.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been in political turmoil since
the opposition crackdown following the disputed re-election of the
hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009.

”As the Iraqi people really needed to unite in 2007, and the
Iraqi team made the people happy and gave them hope (by winning), I
think the Iranian people could use this championship as a source of
inspiration,” Ghotbi said. ”My players are very, very motivated
by this challenge and we hope Iran on Jan. 29 holds the cup, not
for themselves, but for the people.”

The Iranian coach has lived and worked in the United States and
served as an assistant for the Los Angeles Galaxy. He recently
returned to Iran after 30 years abroad to win the Iranian league
title with Persepolis. He was appointed national team coach at the
end of 2009.

”It’s really the most gratifying job to be able to be working
for my people,” Ghotbi said, brushing aside criticism of his
confidence on the international stage and for speaking in English,
rather than Farsi, during the tournament in Qatar.

”The Iranian people have been very kind to me and supportive of
my ambition, my effort and what I stand for,” Ghotbi said. ”I
really would love to give them a gift, and this gift is this
championship.”

Iran, which won the last of its three Asian Cup titles in 1976,
leads Group D with three points after beating defending champion
Iraq 2-1 in the opening match. North Korea and the United Arab
Emirates each have a point after their opening match ended in a 0-0
draw.

Only two teams from each group will advance to the
quarterfinals.

”We are pleased with the first victory and we will design our
destiny in the next match,” Ghotbi said. ”We played a good match
against Iraq and the question is who will qualify with us to the
next round.”