Carlos Queiroz looks for 'miracle' as Iran target World Cup return
Carlos Queiroz never seems to age, with only a lengthening CV providing proof of passing time.
It makes for impressive reading, but the 62-year-old still wants to do more. "I am attracted to the idea of taking four different national teams to a World Cup because only one or two guys have done that and it would be nice for my coaching career," Mozambique-born Queiroz told ESPN FC.
It would be quite a feat, but at the moment the Portuguese coach is focusing on taking Iran -- his third national team after South Africa and Portugal -- to a second successive World Cup in Russia 2018.
The feat is harder than many people realise it to be, Queiroz argues. Though there are four automatic World Cup berths for Asia, the reality is a little different.
"In Asia, three nations have a credit card for the World Cup -- Australia, South Korea and Japan," he says with just a hint of a smile and a what-can-you-do shrug of the shoulders.
"That leaves just one place for Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Uzbekistan, China and North Korea. That is seven nations and almost of all these have great conditions, facilities and financial resources."
Iran -- who were under international sanctions for eight years -- have been at a disadvantage, according to Queiroz. There have been struggles to gain access to funds due from FIFA and the AFC and the consequential inability to pay for training camps and facilities. Years of cancelled friendlies also took a toll.
For Queiroz, it is becoming more difficult for Iran to compete with rivals with better financial resources. "There is real passion for the game in Iran, you don't have to ignite it," he said.
"With passion, players and desire, you have a big chance. But how many times can you work a miracle?
"Money talks everywhere, and we need resources to create a foundation. We need experience but how are you going to gain it if you don't have friendly games, if you don't have nations to play? This is a cat and mouse game and is very difficult to deal with."
The sanctions were lifted in July but the former Real Madrid coach is unconvinced that things will change anytime soon.
It was against such a backdrop that Iran made it to the 2014 World Cup, clinching a spot on a warm June night at the Ulsan World Cup Stadium.
Team Melli's celebration upset the South Korean hosts, who felt it was over the top and aggressive. But according to Queiroz, who was formerly an assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manshester United, it was emotion released after a long and testing campaign.
It was not the end of stress, however. "Our preparation for the World Cup was not playing national teams but a couple of first division teams from South Africa. We are grateful, don't get me wrong, those friends were fantastic for us but it was not enough.
"We need more experience, more players who are mature to play a World Cup. We want to be there with a chance to compete and win and in the World Cup we can only do that if we have quality players and experience."
Even so, the memories of Brazil are still warm. "The performance was great. The players and the team got a lot of respect. They brought pride to the nation, there is no doubt about that," said Queiroz.
Especially against Argentina when Iran only lost 1-0 due to a piece of Lionel Messi magic in the 91st minute and could have won, had the referee given what seemed to be a pretty clear penalty when Pablo Zabaleta had fouled Ashkan Dejagah in the area 10 minutes into the second half.
"I was sure that they would not be able to score, but when you have God on the pitch, sometimes you can make miracles," said Queiroz.
"I cracked the joke then that Argentina had everything on their side. They had Messi who played for them -- Messi could have been born Iranian, but God made him to be born in Argentina.
"Then they also had the referee who was a little bit distracted when he didn't give us that penalty, that scandalous penalty. Sure, if we had scored then, it could have inspired Argentina to come back -- you never know in football. But those two combinations were difficult to deal with.
"We fought hard at the World Cup. It was OK. It was 50 percent of what I wanted."
It comes back to Russia 2018. Iran are strong favourites to top Group D and move into the final round of qualification despite a disappointing start with a 1-1 draw in Turkmenistan in June.
"More than 50 percent of the team are young and it is a new team," Queiroz said. "I expected a little more from them. In fact, the game got a bit complicated for us after we had scored. There are no excuses though. The pitch was OK for both teams, the weather was very hot.
We need to praise Turkmenistan -- they fought for the result and we lacked the experience to control the game and get the three points. But we are still in a good position to move to the next round."
On Thursday, Guam come to Tehran. The island with a population of 170,000 were genuine minnows until recently. Now the Matao are top of the group with six points from games at home to Turkmenistan and India and have climbed the rankings to 146.
Queiroz is wary of the team who are confident, ambitious and with nothing to lose. He is respectful of the job English coach Gary White has done. "They are doing well. They have a lot of players with experience in the United States leagues," said Queiroz.
"I am not surprised, because I have been there and found the Guam players to have this competitive nature and sport education which are the foundations of American sports. The coach is doing well because I saw videos and the team is very well organised with good discipline and it is going to be difficult."
For Carlos Queiroz, life as Iran coach is never easy and you sense that he quite likes it that way. "That is why we are coaches, born to suffer in life. We will do our best and that is all we can do."
Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.