As Ramin Rezaeian put Iran 2-0 up against Wales and in pole position to progress to the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, assistant coach Roger de Sá let out a jubilant cry and pumped his fist in the air.
De Sá, who previously worked under Iran head coach Carlos Queiroz for the men’s national teams of South Africa and Egypt as an assistant coach, and Portugal as a technical advisor for the 2010 World Cup, tipped Iran’s lack of superstars to work in their favour.
He has proven correct so far, with Iran’s unity evident throughout the tournament. Only a win against the USA on Nov. 29 now separates them from the knockout rounds.
“The last [World Cup] was a very narrow miss [of a place in] the second round. I think [Iran] almost shocked the world with their result in the last game [a 1-1 draw with Portugal]. They were unfortunate not to do that (win),” De Sá told ESPN.
“I think with a team like Iran, there are no superstars. It’s predominantly a good team. The whole emphasis on us is to be a good team. We’re forgetting about who we have upfront, who we have at the back and who is our star player.
“I think it’s beneficial for us. It’s very rewarding for us. It’s nice to work with a group of players who are all prepared to put in the work and the effort. Our objective is not to have the best players – our objective is to have the best team.
“If we can get through to the second round, it’s a massive achievement already, but who knows?”
After taking the helm for the course of this World Cup, with the possibility of an extension until after next year’s AFC Asian Cup, Queiroz’s second stint in Iran has got off to a strong start. The win over Wales was their third in five games since he took charge again and brought De Sá with him.
Queiroz has undeniable pedigree as a coach, having been in charge of Real Madrid, and serving as Sir Alex Ferguson’s longtime assistant at Manchester United.
However, before that, he was effectively forced out of the head coach position at Bafana Bafana ahead of the 2002 World Cup by the South African Football Association (SAFA). According to De Sá, SAFA did not believe in his long-term vision.
Having now worked under Queiroz for four teams including South Africa, De Sá said that even after his achievements in the game, not all employers are fully supportive of the former Portugal boss’ methods.
“I think everywhere we go, there have been challenges. Of course, there’s always a challenge and some people want the quick fix and the quick results. Some people are living under a rock – they don’t realise what they can have and what they can’t have,” the former Bafana goalkeeper said.
“They believe that they are better than Real Madrid or Liverpool or wherever. It just works like that in a lot of the world. There have always been challenges, but I think that the federations that believed and followed him – I think they’ve all done pretty well.
“Carlos has been to a lot of World Cups. He’s had a fantastic record, so why not listen to him and try to get as much out of him as possible?”
Asked if he envisioned himself ever taking charge of a national team as head coach, De Sá said: “I’ve had a couple of offers in the past. I’m of the opinion that if I get a good gig and a good project, I would consider it.
“But I’m also very fortunate to be in a position where I don’t have to take everything that comes, so I’d rather be a little bit more choosy and more picky about which national team I’d like to take.
“If it does happen, I would consider it and analyse it and see if it’s worthwhile or not, because it is a massive commitment. These two commitments I’ve made with both Egypt and Iran have put a massive strain on my family and my personal lifestyle and my business back home, so it’s something that you’ve really got to analyse and see if it’s worthwhile or not – not just financially.
“We are talking about every aspect, because working for a national team is not a normal job. It’s a massive 12-hour-a-day job that you’re continuously working [on] if you do it properly, because otherwise, you can always sit on the beach and only report back for the FIFA week.
“But no, not the way we work with Carlos and all of us – we put in long hours, and hence the results have come his way because of the attitude and how he works.”
A win against the USA on Tuesday at the Al Thumama Stadium would not only seal Iran’s place in the round of 16, but also ensure Queiroz’s methods are vindicated once again with De Sá by his side.