Iran: Rio 2016’s football 5 surprise package

November 29, 2016 - 15:45

The Asian team’s star Behzad Zadaliasghari explains what made winning their first Paralympic medal possible.

After a historic performance, including a victory over powerhouses Argentina in the semi-finals, Iran’s football 5-a-side team took silver to climb onto the Paralympic podium for the first time ever in the sport at Rio 2016.

Four years ago in London, Great Britain, the reigning Asian champions finished sixth on their Paralympic debut. But the team learned from that experience and were in sensational form in Rio to claim silver behind hosts Brazil after losing out in the final 1-0.

“Our team is unique. We played with big heart,” said Iranian forward Behzad Zadaliasghari.

“In my opinion, our team even had the capacity to win the gold medal. But it still feels really good to have finished in second place. I am very happy with it.”

Iran finished second in Group A behind Brazil after defeating African champions Morocco 2-0 and two goalless draws against the Rio hosts and European champions Turkey.

In the semi-finals, Iran surprisingly beat Argentina 2-1 on penalties following another goalless draw to qualify for the gold medal match.

Despite achieving an unprecedented result in Rio, Zadaliasghari believes the team’s preparations for Latin America’s first Paralympic Games could have been better.

“They were not enough. But our unity as a team made as strong and that is exactly what helped us win silver last September,” the 28-year-old said.

Zadaliasghari scored an astonishing goal against Morocco in the group stage that had people talking for many days. The Iranian received the ball in his own half and dribbled past the entire African team before shooting past goalkeeper Samir Bara.

“International media started calling me the ‘Blind Messi’,” he said.

“In fact, not just the media but also Brazilian fans got into what the Iranian team was doing after that game. People started calling me by my last name while I was walking at the Olympic Village. It was great”.

Para sport in Iran is enjoying a constant growth and blind football is not an exception.

“Our sport has been evolving in the last years. After Rio we noticed that many people are getting familiar with football 5-a-side. We are welcomed in every place we go,” said Zadaliasghari.

“In London, we finished in sixth place, in Rio we won silver, and if we keep working the way we are doing it, we might fight for the gold medal once again at Tokyo 2020.”

(Source: Paralympic.org)

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