ST PETERSBURG: The troubles that beset Iran before the World Cup have only served to unite the team, their coach Carlos Queiroz said on the eve of their opening Group B match against Morocco in St Petersburg.
Iran begin their campaign on Friday, but their preparations were disrupted by Nike’s late refusal to supply equipment to their players, citing ongoing U.S. sanctions against their country.
Two of Iran’s warm-up matches were also cancelled this month, but Queiroz said his side felt no pressure ahead of what he described as a must-win game for both teams.
"This is not the time or place to go into specifics of the difficulties in relation to the sanctions, everybody knows that," he told a news conference on Thursday.
"We cannot use these issues as excuses, but we must use all of these situations as a source of inspiration to make our players stronger and more willing.
"They know we need to be a family and fight, play and show everybody we love the game like every other player around the world."
The Portuguese added that starting on a winning note was what Iran’s players needed to push their off-field woes firmly from their minds.
"I’m sure you know some countries they feel pressure," Queiroz said. "On our side, everything is the opposite. We are here to celebrate the sacrifices, the commitment and our efforts during four years to be part of this competition.
"The best medicine in football, it is to win…. What I can say is we are fully ready for this game.
"We’re going to try to go to sleep after doing our best, with three points under our belt."
Queiroz conceded that history was not on Iran’s side.
The team have won one match at a World Cup in five appearances and have never got past the group stages.
Standing in their path to the last 16 alongside Morocco are European champions Portugal and 2010 World Cup winners Spain.
Morocco are making their first World Cup appearance in 20 years but have a larger number of players in the top European leagues than Iran.
"As a matter of respect we concede and we admit that the favourites are Morocco, Spain and Portugal due to the history, World Cup preparation, experience, maturity, and players playing in the best teams in Europe," Queiroz added.
"We concede they are favourites, but we don’t tolerate anybody telling us we are not capable to win. Nobody can undermine our expectations and our hopes. We don’t tolerate anybody who tells us we are not able to do it.
"We are here to compete with the favourites and in the end we hope that the gods of football speak higher and they make the decisions."
(Reporting by Simon Jennings, editing by Ed Osmond)