Vol. 5 Num 64 Fri. July 30, 2004  

AFC Asian Cup, China 2004
Iran united

The extraordinary on-field bust-ups which threatened to wreck Iran's Asian Cup campaign have galvanised the squad as it bids for an unprecedented fourth title, their coach said.

Branko Ivankovic praised his team, decimated by suspensions after their incendiary 2-2 draw with Oman, after booking a place in the last eight thanks to a goalless encounter with Japan.

Iran's tournament had looked in tatters after the Oman match when they were lucky to escape with a draw and had three players banned for stamping or fighting.

"We resolved the problem among ourselves," Ivankovic said. "We took over the problems and worked them out. Everything that was said out on the pitch we went through internally.

"We had some problems before the match so I appreciate that our players played so well. I'm happy that we could play the match so well against Japan."

Ivankovic promised there would be no repeat of incidents such as the slap-fight which earned defenders Rahman Rezaei and Ali Badavi a two-match ban or the vicious stamp which saw Mohammed Nosrati barred for four games.

"Iranian players are famous for their enthusiasm and play emotionally," he said.

"The result of the incident in the last match is that it's finished. It seems it won't happen again."

Ivankovic, who led Iran to the gold medal in the 2002 Asian Games, said confidence was growing among the team which will take on South Korea in the quarter-finals on Saturday.

"We have to build up the spirit among the team. Team spirit is the most important part of a national team especially when players are coming from different parts of the country," he said.

"Building up spirit in a team is a very difficult job but our players are tough and can do anything."