Iran depart with heads held high
Team Melli's 2014 World Cup tournament ended in Salvador on Wednesday at the hands of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 3-1 defeat was a disappointing ending to a journey that started with doubts against Nigeria, but became more promising after the game (only won in extra-time by a wonder strike from Lionel Messi) against Argentina.
Sadly, the final game against a quality Bosnia-Herzegovina side exposed many of Iran's weaknesses, highlighted their shortcomings, and ended the dream for the millions of passionate fans who follow them. No true football fan can begrudge Bosnia a well-deserved victory, however. It was their first World Cup victory in their first World Cup tournament, so perhaps it would soothe some of the pain for the Bosnian fans who would have been hugely disappointed by their team's unfulfilled potential.
As for Team Melli, who would've thought a team that was arguably one of the weakest Iranian sides in recent years, and one of lowest-ranked among the 32 in this tournament, would somehow manage to keep millions of Iranian fans dreaming of the possibilities for more than 240 minutes of football at its highest level? What this team lacked in raw footballing talent, it compensated for with hard work, courage, and unity on and off the pitch. This is something that all true Iran fans should, and will, acknowledge in days to come.
Indeed, the mark that the current squad and its coaching staff left on Iranian football will last a while. They proved to all their fans that if they are given experienced leadership, forward planning, attention to detail and careful diligence, the team can progress to bigger achievements. Although they did not show, or rather were not able to show, much of an attacking flair in a World Cup that has so far been a great joy to watch, they did produce the best football that they possibly could, given their limited resources.
The fans, the thousands who managed to travel to Brazil for the three matches from all around the world, did the team proud, too. Honorable mention should go to those female Iranian fans who made their voices be heard in Brazilian stadia, behind TV screens, and even in Iranian city streets. Although they have not been allowed to attend matches in their own country for the past few decades, they still remain true football fans and never hesitate to cheer on their footballing heroes. Perhaps one day they'll be able to cheer and support their beloved teams in stadia all around Iran.
The tournament may now be over for Iran, but the nation as a whole is incredibly grateful for the chance to show the world what it can do on the pitch. Hopefully, some of the watching world has been impressed, but in the homeland, there is now real hope that Team Melli will be walking out into the stadiums of Russia in four years' time.