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Cristiano Ronaldo still 'the best player in the world' - Iran's Carlos Queiroz

ESPN FC'S Gab Marcotti and Craig Burley each make cases for Spain and Portugal to win Group B.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz is looking forward to facing "the best player in the world" this summer when his team take on Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal at the World Cup in Russia.

The Asian country qualified for their fifth World Cup and were drawn with Portugal, the team Queiroz coached at the 2010 World Cup, as well as Spain and Morocco in Group B.

Iran will face Portugal in their final group game on June 25 and Queiroz, who is Portuguese, is excited.

"As a Portuguese coach, I think that playing against Portugal is an opportunity and a very special moment both for me and my players," Queiroz told "It will be interesting to play them and Spain and Morocco. It's going to be a very attractive group at this World Cup."

Queiroz and Ronaldo were once on the books of Portuguese club Sporting CP, though not at the same time. Ronaldo joined Sporting's youth team in 1997, a year after the coach left the first team.

Their paths have crossed, however, several times. Queiroz was an assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson when Ronaldo played at Manchester United and he also coached him in his two years at the helm of Portugal.

"It's going to be special, as it always is when you take on great players," Queiroz said. "In this case, it's the best player in the world. But when the match starts, there are just two teams who are trying to win. Football will decide who wins the day and who was better on the field of play."

Carlos Queiroz coached Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal from 2008 to 2010.

Queiroz also said that he can recall several fond moments he has shared with Ronaldo.

"The memories stay with you, of course they do," Queiroz said. "Especially in shared projects, like we had at Manchester and the Portuguese national team. That was a long time ago, though. The South Africa World Cup was a few years ago now.

"Times have changed and now I've got other Ronaldos with me. They're important players ... the likes of [Alireza] Jahanbakhsh, [Reza] Goochannejad, [Ali] Karimi, etc. These are the Ronaldos I've got to look after now and who I've got to pay attention to [in order] to achieve the success we all want."

Under Queiroz, Iran nearly claimed a point against Argentina in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup before Lionel Messi scored an added-time goal to earn the South American giants a win.

"I've always said that Messi is an extraordinary player," Queiroz said. "He's out of this world. If he were human, he wouldn't have had that magical moment in that match. I don't usually like losing, but I didn't come away from that defeat with a negative feeling.

"It's when something magical like that happens that you know that football is alive and kicking, and that's why it's one of the best sports in the world to watch. And it's even more of a special moment when it comes from a player who shouldn't be allowed to play by FIFA until it's proven that he's actually human."

Iran's only victory in a World Cup remains a 2-1 win over the United States in 1998.

Queiroz is optimistic his side can make a good impression in Russia despite facing a tough group.

"Iran have come on a lot," he said. "With the experience of Brazil 2014 under our belts and with several players having since moved to Europe, we've become more solid and competitive. Playing in the Asian leagues is not the same as playing international football.

"We've become a better side. We're the best Asian team in the FIFA Ranking, we didn't lose a game in the qualifiers and we only conceded a couple of goals. That's why we're going to Russia with a very clear dream in mind."

Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.


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