By Pejman Rahbar
Afshin Ghotbi was the only man who believed that his team could win the Asian Cup, but his faith was not enough to avoid a quarter-final exit to South Korea. The coach, who signed a contract with Japanese side Shimizu S-Pulse before the competition, left Iran without a fond farewell from supporters.
But the Iranian national team started a new life with a new name. Carlos Queiroz’s signing as Iran’s new head coach signals a new era. Queiroz’s resume includes managing the national teams of Portugal, South Africa and UAE. In between, he assisted Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and led Real Madrid in a forgettable 2003-04 season.
|DOMESTIC LEAGUES AND CUPS
Sepahan set another record in their long and storied history, becoming the first team in the Iran Pro League to win the championship two years in a row. Despite an excellent season for the Yellow Storm, they went through four coaches in 2011 and were disqualified from the Asian Champions League after fielding an illegal player. This sad news came despite the club having twice beaten eventual champions Al Sadd.
Meanwhile, legendary Tehranian club Persepolis continued their troubled run as, despite winning the Hazfi Cup for a second straight year, there was very public strife between club chairman Habib Kashani and manager Ali Daei. When Daei was forced to resign and Hamib Estili, a close friend of Kashani's, was installed in his place, Asia's most well-supported club was the subject of boycotts and intense criticism from its fans.
After a year of poor results aside from the Cup win, Kashani resigned as chairman and Perspolis appeared to right themselves by appointing Turkish manager Mustafa Denizli as their new coach.
They may not be equivalent to the Golden Generation but, as always, Iran have some strong players abroad. Veteran midfielder Javad Nekounam had another strong season at Spanish side Osasuna, while national team striker Farhad Majidi was loaned to Qatari side Al Gharrafa at the end of the year.
|PLAYER OF THE YEAR | Mojtaba Jabbari, Esteghlal & national team
Known by Iranian fans as 'the Zidane of Asia', Mojtaba Jabbari had a solid year despite suffering injuries. He showed his art against Perspolis in the Tehran Derby and demonstrated top form for both Steghlal, who won the mid-season title, and the Iranian national team. With seven goals in 14 league matches and three goals in World Cup qualifying, fans will be relying on Jabbari to help lead Iran to their first World Cup finals since 2006.
|MOMENT OF THE YEAR | Sweet revenge against Bahrain
After Bahrain's Rashed Al Hooti received what is believed to be the fastest international red card ever, just 39 seconds into the October 12 qualifier at Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Iran took great pleasure in enacting revenge for their failed 2002 World Cup campaign, when the visitors eliminated them from qualification. The hosts went on to score six goals, each by a different player, and left an indelible mark on Group E.
|WISHES FOR IRANIAN FOOTBALL IN 2012
Iranian supporters also hope for club success as Perspolis, Steghlal, Sepahan, and Zob Ahan fans look forward to competing in the 2012 ACL. It will have been 19 years since a team from Iran won the competition, and there may be no better time than 2012 to end the winless streak.