Iran relies on inside knowledge in Asian Cup

AP , Friday 21 Jan 2011

One day before quarter final match, Iran and South Korea becomes a mental game

Afshin Ghotbi
Ghotbi speaks to the media during a pre-match news conference ahead of Iran's quarter-final match against South Korea

Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi believes his inside knowledge of South Korea will give his team an edge in their Asian Cup quarterfinal showdown.

South Korea, meanwhile, is worried that part of Iran’s game plan might be to disrupt the flow of the game with frequent fouls.

Both teams were stepping up the mental games ahead of Saturday’s match, the fifth straight time the two Asian football powers meet at this stage of the tournament.

“Iran vs. South Korea is a fixture set in stone. It seems they meet in every Asian Cup. It will be a classic,” Ghotbi said. “I expect a fantastic match, Asian football at its best.”

Iran is seeking a record fourth title and South Korea its third, but neither team has won the continental championship in 35 years. South Korea won the first two tournaments, in 1956 and 1960, and Iran captured the last of its three straight in 1976.

The two teams have split their last four quarterfinal showdowns, and Ghotbi has one win and one draw against South Korea as Iran’s head coach.

Ghotbi was on South Korea’s coaching staff for two World Cup tournaments and one Asian Cup and has also coached in the Korean league.

“There are no secrets in football today but I know the culture, I know how they think and how they react on a good day and on a bad day and how they will execute,” Ghotbi said. “I will use all my knowledge and experience and I think we have an advantage in the tactical, technical and mental departments.”

While stressing the close relationship he still has with South Korea, Ghotbi said his job was “to win and reach the next round.”

“If South Korea had done their job and won the group, they would not have met us until the final,” he said.

South Korea coach Cho Kwang-rae didn’t think his counterpart’s South Korean experience would be a major factor.

“The Korean team keeps changing and developing its style so it may not be that useful,” Cho said. “The tactics of the Iranian team might be to come out and stop the game by committing many fouls.”

Ghotbi responded at his news conference later Friday by suggesting it was the South Koreans who might have to use such a plan.

“With all respect to the South Korean coach, they may have to resort to fouls because we are a better team,” said Ghotbi, whose team was the only side to win all three group matches.

That’s not how South Korea defender Cha Du-ri saw it, however.

“We shouldn’t worry. We’ve played against stronger teams and we’ve done well,” the Celtic player said. “We are one of the strongest teams in Asia. We were in the round of 16 at the World Cup and if we play as we normally play, we should win.”

Cho said it “won’t be a big problem” for his team to advance to the semifinals and added, “I am quite sure we can beat Iran without giving away any goals.”

Ghotbi will move on to a coaching job in Japan after the tournament and wanted to go out with a triumph.

“We started this job 20 months ago with the aim to win the Asian Cup,” the Iranian-American said. “The Iranian people can use at this moment in history a turning point, in hope, in confidence and unity in the country.”

Iran will be without striker Arash Afshin, who was sent off in the final group match against the United Arab Emirates, by a South Korean referee, as Ghotbi noted.

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