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Iran Seeking Transition To Outdoor Game (31/07/2011)

 Sri Lanka vs Iran (3rd /4th classification)

Half time: 0-0
Full time: 0-2

By Eddie dos Passos/HKHA

Iran’s third place finish in the Hong Kong-hosted Men’s Junior Asian Hockey Federation Cup may see them re-think the way the sport is managed in the country and see a transition phase from indoor to outdoor.

Their 2-0 win over Sri Lanka at King’s Park could well spark an interest in the game in the country, and may see them as a future regional giant in the sport, according to Iran coach Esfandyar Safaei after seeing his side end the tournament as the ‘most improved’ team with their performance.

Their journey in the tournament began when they chalked up a 2-2 draw and sharing the point with Sri Lanka in the preliminary round, before crashing out for honours when they lost to Singapore in the semi-finals, 4-1 before this time beating Sri Lanka 2-0 for third place.

But its Safaei’s belief that changes within the sport back home will bring them medal honours in the coming years as they build on the success of the Hong Kong-hosted event that will see tournament glory head their way.

“We felt the influence of the others (team) as we travelled along the road to our third place play-off,” said Safaei.

“You have to remember our method of playing is more at home in the indoor arena,” he said. “Every match for us was a learning experience and for most of my players, this was their first international experience on this type of (artificial) surface.”

“Something was lost along the way and that for us, was the experience and exposure on playing in terms of strategy and adapting quickly on this surface,” he said.

Ironically, Safaei said that his country was heading in the right direction as they were building a new artificial turf and joins three pitches in Iran, although not any of them are

Iran's No.8 (far right) Vahid Fathi fires home the ball beyound the reach of stranded Sri Lanka goalkeeper Nuwan Premathilaka. Iran eventually won 2-0 and finished the tournament in third place. Picture by: Eddie dos Passos/HKHA


He firmly believed it was not too late for them to make the transition in time for next year’s Asian Junior Champion, which they have to qualify after having finished in the top four of the Hong Kong-hosted tournament.

“Iran is a big country and while we do have pitches (for hockey), they are not up to international standards,” he said.

Already it is already changing as his sport is getting more support from the Iranian government and he expects renewed interest after their performance and results stemming from Hong Kong.

“We have a good indoor league but with this third place, we might see even more players coming into the sport,” he said.

But he admitted they had to do more if they wanted to close the gap between them and other regional hockey nations and become a force themselves.

“Right now, we can learn a lot from our Asian neighbours. Look at China, Singapore and Chinese Taipei, I am sure we can one day be able to beat them and we will have a good test when we do play them,” he said.

Going back to their game against Sri Lanka, he admired them for their fast paced stick-work and passing game but admitted it was their lack of physical attributes that allowed Iran to dominate proceedings despite their 2-2 draw in the preliminary rounds.

Their play-off this time, looked again to be heading for another draw after the match remained dead-locked and goal-less at the break, and the likelihood of a penalty shoot-out grew with each passing minute.

That was quickly erased when Iran opened the scoring through a 44th minute Vahid Fathi winner and then cemented with a last minute Navid Taherirad field goal.

“We had a good game,” said Sri Lanka coach Leelananda Ittapana. “We had some scoring chances but sadly we were unable to put them away”.

But he was not disappointed as Sri Lanka are assured of going on to the next phase of the competition, having finished fourth and knew that they too, joined Iran in the qualification round for a ticket to the Asian Junior Championships.

“Now we must begin our planning and preparations for the Asian Junior Championships,” he said.

He said they too, would be looking at long term planning and a program that will help build up the image of the sport, from development to funding.

However, he did not expect they would be doing well at the Asian Championships as six of his current squad would be over-aged by the time of the start of the Under-21 tournament.

He was encouraged with the knowledge that the government would support the sport as they are currently rebuilding a venue, apparently, the only one in the Hill Country of Matale, 120 km from Colombo.

Hong Kong Umpire Tony Cheung awarding a yellow card to Sri Lanka's Geemal Dias for dangerous play. The Sri Lanka was to receive two yellows for his antics in their semi-final, which they lost to Iran 2-0. Picture by: Eddie dos Passos/HKHA