A bitter shock after a sweet victory

TEHRAN, Oct. 16 (MNA) – Tuesday’s defeat of Team Melli against Bahrain warned Marc Wilmots and his men of the difficult path ahead of the team to reach its third consecutive FIFA World Cup finals.

Team Melli’s Belgian coach came across his first major obstacle on Tuesday and the team should now cope with many difficulties to overcome this barrier.

It could be anticipated that who succeeds Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese coach who had managed the team for eight years and achieved fair results, would have a hard time in Team Melli to maintain the results and improve the overall performance. Finally, the Iranian football federation reached an agreement with the former Belgian national team’s head coach Marc Wilmots in May 2019.

Wilmots accepted this responsibility while Team Melli had experience back-to-back World Cup finals under Queiroz and although the team didn’t advance to the quarterfinals, it fulfilled and aroused the expectations of Iranian fans.

Wilmots invited the same players as Queiroz did in the first team's announcement; a logical move to trust the previous coach till you get a better understanding of your new team. As expected, he has gradually changed the invitation list in the past two months as one can see the elimination of some main players such as Alireza Jahanbakhsh and the inclusion of new players such as Mohammad Mohebbi.

Moderate results in five matches

Wilmots has so far guided the team in three official and two friendly games, collecting three wins, one draw, and one defeat. In his first match as the team’s coach, Iran defeated Syria 5-0 and then came a 1-1 draw against South Korea in Seoul. World Cup 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers campaign started for Iran in Group C with a 2-0 away victory over Hong Kong and then an unexpected 14-0 victory over Cambodia in Tehran. But less than a week after this sweet victory came a 1-0 bitter defeat against Bahrain.

Neither Hong Kong nor Cambodia was equipped enough to truly evaluate Wilmot’s team and experts believed that matches against Iraq and Bahrain would be the real tests.

Rough road began with ‘rude’ Bahraini fans

The match against Bahrain started with fans’ disrespect for Iran’s national anthem and demonstrated part of reality about Team Melli’s readiness. The team's failure to reach full readiness is natural for a new coach who has just sit on the bench. Also, Team Melli has not held regular training in this period and Wilmots has not had the required time to build the team he wants.

A lackluster first half against Bahrain proved that the players required more time to fit in Wilmot’s style of football. In the first half, one could clearly feel the players’ arrogance for that 14-0 victory over Cambodia; they underestimated their rival and were punished by a team that was ready for victory.

The fact is that neither the two victories over Hong Kong and Cambodia nor the loss against Bahrain was the total reality of the team. Team Melli enjoys great capabilities and just needs more time. Mainly entered the team under Queiroz, this generation has now grown to maturity and most of them can play for the team in the coming years.

Iran doesn’t lack good and reliable players in any post. The question is whether Wilmots can make the best use of this human resource or not.

It is too early to judge Team Melli. Defeat against Bahrain came at the best time possible; it both get players out of the air of conceit for the victory against Cambodia and warned of the match against Iraq. This defeat made the team understand that they have a tough way to go to advance to the next round of qualifications from this group.

Reza Khosravi is the editor-in-chief of Mehr News Agency’s sports desk

Translated by Mohammad Ali Haqshenas

MAH/4748361

News Code 151311

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