Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh believes that the expectation on Iran during the current Asian Cup has benefitted the team.
Before a 2-0 victory over Oman in the round of 16, a game which saw Jahanbakhsh find the back of the net, his country was without a win in a knockout game of the competition since 2004, when they last won the Asian Cup in 1976.
Carlos Queiroz’s men face China today in the last eight of the competition and are yet to concede a goal in the tournament.
He said, “The tournament has been going really well and we’ve had a very strong group stage with the results we’ve got, reinforced by the fact we haven’t conceded a goal.
“I always take great pride in representing my national team, the World Cup campaign last year has given the whole group confidence, and it’s raised expectations, but that’s what spurs you on as a player.
“We have another tough game against China to come now and we have to take it game by game – we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves, we’ve worked hard up until now, but we know we’ll have to continue doing that.
The wide man had been sidelined for Albion since the start of November since picking up a hamstring injury in the latter stages of the game with Everton at Goodison Park.
He emphasised how happy he was to now be back out on the field for his country before he returns to England in the next few weeks after the tournament’s conclusion.
“It’s been made even better for me because I was out of action for a long time and that’s always frustrating – the national team manager has eased me back in during the group stages and then I managed to score in the last round, so I feel in very good shape at the moment.”
“The timing of the injury I picked up at the start of November was really tough for me, because I felt like I was beginning to get a good run of games in the side and was getting used to the new division.
“Those things always take time, but it gave me even greater motivation to get back fit – both for this Asian Cup and then when I’m back with Brighton in the Premier League.”
There is a possibility that both Iran and Australia will make the final, meaning Jahanbakhsh and Albion teammate Maty Ryan could come face-to-face given that the respective teams are on opposite sides of the draw.
The summer arrival from AZ Alkmaar revealed that he’d been in conversations with the Socceroos keeper over the last few weeks, and praised the ability of the Australian stopper.
“I’ve been speaking to Maty regularly during our time out here and he obviously did very well in the game against Uzbekistan the other day with his penalty saves, I’ve spoken to the Iranian group about how lucky the club are to have someone like him in goal. I hope he continues to do well – but not against us if we end up playing each other in the final!
“From what I’ve seen, the team have been doing well since I’ve been away – the draw against Arsenal and the win over Everton were good results and we also gave a very good account of ourselves at Old Trafford last weekend too.
“I love representing my nation and the flag for all of our amazing fans back in Iran, and it all serves as extra motivation for me to keep pushing on and doing as well as I can out here during the tournament before hitting the ground running back in England.”
Iran take on China today in the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup, kick-off 4pm.