Featured Matches
Previous
Valencia
Malaga
8:00 PM GMT
Game Details
FC Augsburg
Borussia Dortmund
6:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Marseille
Nice
6:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Sporting Kansas City
Houston Dynamo
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Getafe
Almeria
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Getafe
Almeria
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Valencia
Malaga
8:00 PM GMT
Game Details
FC Augsburg
Borussia Dortmund
6:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Marseille
Nice
6:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Perugia
Bologna
6:30 PM GMT
Game Details
FC Union Berlin
Nurnberg
4:30 PM GMT
Game Details
FSV Frankfurt
RB Leipzig
4:30 PM GMT
Game Details
VfR Aalen
Kaiserslautern
4:30 PM GMT
Game Details
AJ Auxerre
Valenciennes
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Ajaccio GFCO
Troyes
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Chateauroux
Orléans
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Le Havre AC
Créteil
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Nimes
Arles
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Niort
Clermont Foot
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Sochaux
Dijon FCO
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Stade Laval
AC Ajaccio
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Go Ahead Eagles
Willem II Tilburg
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Achilles '29
Fortuna Sittard
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
FC Den Bosch
Jong Ajax
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Helmond Sport
NEC Nijmegen
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Jong PSV
FC Eindhoven
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
RKC Waalwijk
Jong FC Twente
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
SC Stormvogels Telstar
Almere City
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Sparta Rotterdam
FC Volendam
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
VVV Venlo
FC Emmen VV
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Academica de Coimbra
Vitoria Setubal
7:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast
Terek Grozny
0
0
LIVE 65'
Game Details
Balikesirspor
Akhisar Belediye
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Caykur Rizespor
Genclerbirligi
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
KAA Gent
KV Kortrijk
6:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Helsingborg
Halmstad
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Orebro SK
Brommapojkarna
5:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Athlone Town FC
Cork
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Bray
UCD
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Derry City
St Patricks
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Dundalk
Bohemians
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Limerick FC
Drogheda Utd
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Shamrock
Sligo
7:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Glenavon
Ballymena
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Coleraine
Portadown
7:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Sporting Kansas City
Houston Dynamo
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Queretaro
Monterrey
12:30 AM GMT
Game Details
Tijuana
U. de G.
2:30 AM GMT
Game Details
Aberystwyth
Bangor City
6:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Carmarthen
Port Talbot
6:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Newi Cefn Druids
Connah's Quay
6:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Airbus UK
Newtown
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
T.N.S.
Rhyl
6:45 PM GMT
Game Details
Independiente Rivadavia
Atlético Tucumán
6:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Unión de Santa Fe
Crucero del Norte
7:15 PM GMT
Game Details
Huracán
Patronato
11:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Instituto de Córdoba
Ferro Carril Oeste
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Temperley
Sp. Belgrano
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Gimnasia y Esgrima de Jujuy
San Martín de San Juan
12:30 AM GMT
Game Details
Atlante
At. San Luis
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Coras Tepic
Lobos BUAP
1:30 AM GMT
Game Details
Joinville
Oeste
11:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Sampaio Correa-MA
América Mineiro
11:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Santa Cruz FC
Goianiense
11:30 PM GMT
Game Details
Arica
Palestino
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
12 de Octubre
Nacional
Postp
Game Details
Bidvest Wits
Moroka Swallows
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Chippa United
Ajax Cape Town
6:00 PM GMT
Game Details
Next
Jan 21, 2011

Ghotbi to take leave of beautiful mess

Saturday's quarter-final of the 2011 Asian Cup will mark the end of an era for the team that loses. If South Korea are knocked out then Park Ji-Sung could call it quits as far as his international career is concerned. If Iran end up eliminated then it will be Afshin Ghotbi's last game in charge before he heads to Japanese club Shimizu S-Pulse for a new career.

• Duerden: Ten things we have learned

Both want to step down with the title to their name. For Park, it would be another page in a career universally lauded. For Ghotbi, it would, perhaps, be the only thing that would placate his detractors at home, though even that may not be enough.

It is only when the 46-year-old is far away from Tehra for a few years, and Shizuoka is pretty far, that just where he ranks in the litany of Iranian coaches will be agreed upon. It has been a tumultuous 22 months and he will welcome a 'normal job' away from the craziness that is Iranian football.

Parting really will be sweet sorrow for the man in charge of 'Team Melli'. You can bet he enjoyed announcing his departure in November in a statement to the Tehran media that had spent a good deal of the previous year speculating that he was about to be fired and replaced by the likes of Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fatih Terim. He will miss it though, they all do - managing Iran is a breathtaking roller-coaster ride.

It is hard to say if it is more difficult if you are native or foreign but Ghotbi, born in Tehran in 1964 before emigrating to the United States in 1977, was both and that made it tough. The chance to work with talented players in a nation that loves football can make the job a rewarding one but there will be quite a bit he will not miss. Politics both of the football and non-football kind is everywhere. The government owns the clubs, directly or indirectly, and basically administers the sport. When you add that to the media, the administrators (how many friendlies have been cancelled or just never happened over the years?) and the whole hashyeeh, the side-issues, then you have quite a heady brew.

Ghotbi was never the saviour of Iranian football that his fans wanted him to be when he arrived back in his homeland in 2007 and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Persepolis fans waited at Tehran airport to carry him out of the terminal on their shoulders. By the same token, he wasn't the inexperienced chancer, who turned his back on his country at the age of 13, that his detractors portrayed him as. He was a young coach looking to get a chance to put what he had learned overseas into practice back in his homeland.

The Persepolis job was his first professional head-coach position but by then he had already accumulated a variety of international experience. His early coaching career in the United States earned him a place on the staff with Team USA at the 1998 World Cup. That campaign included a defeat by Iran with a goal from Hamid Estili, the future assistant at Persepolis who would cross swords with Ghotbi a decade later.

In 2002, as a technical video analyst/scout with South Korea, he worked with Guus Hiddink in their famous run to the semi-final of the World Cup. When Dick Advocaat took over for the 2006 competition, Ghotbi was named as an assistant coach and was at the right hand of Pim Verbeek at the 2007 Asian Cup, during which Korea knocked out Iran in the quarter-finals. Incredibly, that was the fourth successive meeting between the two teams at that stage in the tournament. Saturday makes it five.

Before that tournament had ended, Ghotbi had been offered the job of Persepolis, the biggest club in Asia. The Tehran giants had gone through a number of coaches, domestic and foreign, without success. Seen, by his fans, as the best of both worlds - an Iranian coach with genuine international experience - Ghotbi started on fire and the Reds stormed to the top of the table.

Despite a few wobbles and a six-point deduction, Persepolis took the title with the last kick, or header, of the season in as dramatic and emotional a finish as you could ever hope to see. It was all played out in front of 100,000 ecstatic men, and they were all men, in Tehran's Azadi Stadium, and millions of exiled Reds around the world. To lift the title in his first season despite the penalty was quite an achievement. It wasn't recognised as such in all quarters. It was Estili's team, some said, though it is highly unlikely that they would have accepted that as an excuse if Ghotbi had failed.

That triumph ultimately, though far from smoothly, led to the national team job in April 2009. After five games of the final stage of qualification for the 2010 World Cup, Iran under the legendary Ali Daei were struggling and Ghotbi was given the task of salvaging a South African spot with three matches to go. It didn't quite happen and Iran got five points instead of the seven needed. Nobody would have been too surprised if Ghotbi had been fired at that point, others have suffered the same fate for less, but the Iranian Football Federation stuck with its man.

The heady days of the second half of 2007, when this suit-wearing, smiling, young and energetic coach took Iranian football by storm, have long gone. The time when even fans of rival teams hailed this man, who in 2006 had been denied a visa to enter the country when with South Korea, as "Afshin the Emperor", could never last. Those who felt that he could single-handedly change the face of Iranian football now look naive.

If he succeeds in Qatar, his supporters will delight in telling the detractors: "we told you so". A failure will cause the roles to be reversed. In some way, this may help. Like a normal coach, Ghotbi will be judged on results. In truth, that is what he always was: a normal coach. He may have been different than the stuffy, conservative, close-minded and well-connected men that formed the majority of the local managers in the league, who didn't always take too kindly to the new guy and the headlines he commanded, but, ultimately, he is just a coach.

Now he can focus just on the football and the Asian Cup. And so far, so good. He has led Team Melli through what looked to be the toughest group at the Asian Cup with a perfect nine points. Iran may have wanted to play Australia instead of Korea, partly because of the Socceroos' lack of pace but mainly because of the novelty value, but Ghotbi will be confident of knocking out the youthful Taeguk Warriors. Just three months ago, he took Iran to Seoul to out-think and outmuscle South Korea and collect a 1-0 win.

This isn't quite the Iran team of old, one that could be delightful or desperate to watch in equal measure; one that had the talent but not always the team mentality to take trophies. But this Iran are better-organised, more focused, pragmatic and professional than before.

And if the team don't make it and lose to Korea, there is still hope for the future with promising youngsters such as Karim Ansarifard, Arash Afshin and Ehsan Hajisafi set to spend years on the international stage, and the likes of Gholamreza Rezaei and Masoud Shojaei about to reach their peak.

Ghotbi would argue he has many years before he reaches his but if he does get his hands on the trophy on January 29, it would be an achievement that would be tough to surpass and the perfect way to end a crazy three-and-a-half years in the beautiful mess that is Iranian football.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.