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New Iran coach is not taking Cambodia ‘lightly’

Jose Rodriguez T. Senase / Khmer Times Share:
Dragan Skocic and his team will travel to Phnom Penh in October. AFP

Iran national football team coach Dragan Skocic said he is not taking chances when they face their counterparts from Cambodia again later this year in the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

Skocic made the comments despite his team being seen by most football observers as heavy favourites to repeat against the team from Southeast Asia.

These pundits conveniently point to Team Melli’s crushing 14-0 win against the Koupreys on their first outing a few months ago. That defeat in Tehran was Cambodia’s worst loss in an international football match to date.

In an interview with FIFA.com, the Croatian mentor said they are not taking their upcoming opponents, including Cambodia, lightly.

Skocic was hired to steer the Iranian team in early February this year, replacing Belgian Marc Wimots, who resigned after a shaky start to the qualifiers. Iran has been relegated to third place in Group C behind pacesetters Iraq and Bahrain, and is in danger of not advancing to the next round.

Pundits see an easier path for Iran going forward, with homecourt advantage and a favourable schedule. Iran still have four matches left against Bahrain, Iraq, Hong Kong and Cambodia. All of those matches, except for the one against Cambodia, will be played in Iran.

Cambodia and Iran were supposed to play their second match on March 31. But the Coronavirus outbreak forced the postponement of their match, which has been rescheduled for the third week of October at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium, according to Iranian and Qatari media.

“We have to be professional and respect all the teams, including Cambodia and Hong Kong,” Skocic stressed.

On paper, Iran, an Asian powerhouse, is the obvious favourite to win the repeat match, with Team Melli having some of the best players in the world.

Iran is led by forwards Karim Ansarifard and Sardar Azmoun. Ansarifard, who also plays for the Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg, is second most expensive Iranian player of all-time and the country’s fifth all-time highest goalscorer. He played for Iran in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The duo combined for six goals (couple of hat-tricks) in their prior match against Cambodia.

Azmoun, for his part, has been included by World Soccer in the list of ‘best young talents in the world’.  In 2012, The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) named him as the 48th best goal scorer in the world and second best in Asia.

Also with Team Melli is goalie Alireza Beiranvand, who was recently chosen by fans in the region as the ‘Best Asian in the World Cup’. Beiranvand beat out four other outstanding footballers from Asia, including Japanese star Keisuke Honda, who is the current general manager of the Cambodian team.

Among the stars on the Cambodian side, which is led by Honda and head coach Felix Dalmas, are Keo Sokpheng, Sieng Chanthea, Thierry Chantha Bin and Prak Mony Udom. None of them have played in the World Cup proper.

Despite the obvious Iranian advantage in manpower, Cambodia could take comfort on the fact that it is playing on home soil this time. During this round of the World Cup qualifiers, Cambodia lost to both Bahrain and Iraq, while drawing with Hong Kong at the Olympic Stadium.

Against Iraq, Cambodia lost 4-0, while Bahrain romped off to 1-0 victory. But in both instances, the Cambodians gave a good account of themselves and made life difficult for their opponents, especially Bahrain, which only won by a shave, 1-0, courtesy of a goal by midfielder Komail Hasan Alaswad in the 78th minute.

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