June 23, 2018 / 12:17 PM / a month ago

Against the odds, Queiroz steers Iran to new heights

SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has taken three different nations to the World Cup finals but in his current role, he has confronted problems beyond the realm of sports.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group B - Iran vs Spain - Kazan Arena, Kazan, Russia - June 20, 2018 Iran coach Carlos Queiroz during the match REUTERS/John Sibley

The Mozambique-born Portuguese has been hailed as “brilliant” and “difficult”. And he does not mince words himself when talking about others.

Iran’s match against Portugal - whom Queiroz managed in the 2010 World Cup - in Saransk on Monday could be another marker in his career.

Handed a tough Group B featuring heavyweights Spain and Portugal as well as Morocco, Iran played heroically against Spain on June 15 and only succumbed to a late goal.

If they summon up a similar performance against Portugal, they will make the knockout rounds.

Queiroz has built Iran into an Asian powerhouse in the face of adversity. The talent pool is limited and he has made a point of bringing in players from the Iranian diaspora.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group B - Iran vs Spain - Kazan Arena, Kazan, Russia - June 20, 2018 Iran coach Carlos Queiroz REUTERS/John Sibley

The geopolitical challenges are also formidable.

The West considers Iran a rogue state and the Islamic Republic, still under the sway of conservative leaders, has suffered years of international sanctions. The country is embroiled in regional wars and an international deal over its nuclear programme is in danger of unravelling.

Friendlies have been hard to come by and travel can be a problem. Just before the tournament Nike even declined to supply boots to the team over concern this was breach of U.S. sanctions.

Many have wondered why Queiroz, who enjoyed glory days as assistant manager to Alex Ferguson in two spells at Manchester United, would have taken the job in the first place.

But he has stuck at it for seven years, despite a few walk-outs and reconciliations, and this is the second time in a row he has taken Iran to the World Cup finals.

The team impressed in Brazil 2014 with a dogged display against Argentina, only going down to a late Lionel Messi goal.

He also stewarded South Africa to the tournament in 2002, but left in a dispute before the finals, and Portugal in 2010. The latter campaign ended in the last 16 and he lost his job.

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But the thought of facing his native country’s national side - the current European champions - and a Cristiano Ronaldo who has bagged four goals in two games, does not appear to phase him.

“Portugal have a national side called Cristiano Ronaldo and a group of players who run after him,” he has said.

DIVERSE EXPERIENCE

Queiroz has spent much of his life on the periphery of Portugal, anyway. Born in Mozambique in 1953, he only moved to Portugal when the Carnation Revolution in 1974 led to the collapse of its colonies. He worked in the Middle East, the United States and Japan before coaching South Africa.

It was at Manchester United where he really started to draw attention as Ferguson’s confidante. He had two spells there from 2002. He was tempted away by Real Madrid in 2003. However, that venture did not work out and he returned to Manchester after 10 months and stayed for four years.

“Carlos Queiroz was brilliant. Just brilliant. Outstanding. An intelligent, meticulous man. He was good for me. He was a Rottweiler. He was the closest you could be to being the Manchester United manager without actually holding the title,” Ferguson said in his autobiography.

He was Ferguson’s own choice to succeed him. But there were prickly relations with players, notably Roy Keane.

“In his second spell when he came back, for some reason towards the end of my time I found him to be really disrespectful towards me so we had a bit of fallout,” Keane said on Britain’s ITV this week. “He questioned my loyalty and I told him where to go.

“And one of my big regrets is that I probably should have ripped his head off – but he’s an excellent coach and he’s doing an excellent job, it has to be said.”

Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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