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By ESPN Staff

Iran look to German based players to aid qualification

TEHRAN, May 21 (Reuters) - Iran's coach and captain have expressed confidence they can steer the national side to the second round of the World Cup finals for the first time.

But the German Bundesliga players who will have to help get them there gave more cautious forecasts on Sunday.

Nipping off a windswept training pitch in a thunderstorm at Iran's soccer academy, squad members spoke about the chances of surviving first-round clashes with Mexico, Angola and Portugal.

Skipper and leading international striker Ali Daei said: 'I won't say it is definite but I would say we have a great chance because we have top players who love Iran very much in their hearts. They will give their all.'

He added: 'I am sure the people's prayers will help us as they have in the past.'

Coach Branko Ivankovic was equally confident his team could make amends for the disappointment of Iran's two previous World Cup appearances in Argentina in 1978 and France in 1998 when they exited in the first round.

The Croat said Iran had set no ceiling to how far they could go. 'I am very confident because our injured players including (Ali) Karimi, (Fereydoon) Zandi and (Vahid) Hashemian have healed and are in good condition now,' he added.

Bayern Munich's Karimi, the 27-year-old known as 'The Wizard of Tehran' and 'Asian Maradona' said: 'Football is an unpredictable kind of game. God willing we can make the second round but our main objective is to play decent football.'

Hannover 96 striker Hashemian said: 'We always say we are not afraid of any other teams and we will try to show what we can do in every game.'

Hamburg SV midfielder Mehdi Mahdavikia said: 'You have to be realistic, we have not had that much experience in the World Cup. It is our third time. We are playing in tough group.

'Luck always plays a role in a match but you need to get out on the pitch, then see who gets lucky.'

Iran's World Cup campaign is bound to be clouded by political concerns about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and the diplomatic maelstrom over Tehran's nuclear programme.

But Ivankovic has said he is confident his players can focus on the football.