New Iran coach Ghotbi eyes World Cup comeback
New Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi is confident he can turn the nation's World Cup qualifying fortunes around and take Team Melli to next year's finals in South Africa.
Ghotbi became Iran's third national team coach in as many weeks last Thursday when he was officially unveiled as the new head coach and he believes he can still lead the country to a fourth appearance at the World Cup despite their struggles so far in qualifying.
"Iran has lost a lot of precious time but the Iranian team has quality players with the support of 70 million passionate fans, so everything is possible," the 45-year-old said. "I have been able to, in 48 hours, bring hope and positive energy to the entire nation. This will be an important platform to build the right atmosphere in the coming weeks, as we get closer to the final block of qualifying matches."
Ghotbi was appointed Iran coach after a tumultuous three weeks which saw Ali Daei fired following his side's 2-1 loss against Saudi Arabia, with the former Bayern Munich forward replaced by Mohammad Mayeli Kohan.
Mayeli Kohan's hiring, though, proved to be an unpopular move and, after a number of protests by football fans throughout the nation, the former national team boss stood down after just 15 days - and no matches - at the helm.
As a result, the Iranian football federation turned to Iranian-American Ghotbi in an attempt to resurrect the team's fortunes with just three games remaining in Asia's World Cup qualifying campaign.
Iran have played five games and have collected just six points, leaving them in fourth place in Group B of the region's qualifying competition. The top two teams qualify for the finals with the third placed team - currently Saudi Arabia - entering into a play-off.
Their next game is against second-placed North Korea in Pyongyang before matches against the United Arab Emirates and South Korea - all due to be played in June - will determine their World Cup fate.
Ghotbi, however, believes his stint spent working with Iranian club side Piroozi, who he guided to the league title in 2008, has given him an essential insight into the psyche of the nation's game.
"The Iranian people are very emotional and love their football," said Ghotbi. "At this stage, it is more important to raise their expectation.
"My time at Piroozi has given me a great insight into the psychology of Iranian players, the people and the media. This knowledge will be crucial in the atmosphere I will build around the national team."