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.”