Pride at stake for Iran at World Cup

SAO PAULO (AP) Iran will earn the respect of soccer fans around the world with its performance against Nigeria in their World Cup opener on Monday, according to the team's goalkeeping coach.

Iran is among the lowest ranked teams in the tournament and heads into the Group F match at Curitiba with only one previous victory at a World Cup, against the United States in 1998. It also faces Lionel Messi's Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina in group play.

But keeper coach Dan Gaspar said Saturday the squad was fully focused on Nigeria and that his lesser-known players, who he said would be a ''mystery team'' for their opponents, would be playing with pride on the game's biggest stage.

''We are probably the team that is the least recognized, the least known of all the other 31 teams,'' he said, after the team's final training session at the sports complex of Sao Paulo club Corinthians.

''But the one thing that I can guarantee is that after 90 minutes we will earn the respect of the Nigerians, we will earn the respect of the football fans and the world will begin to recognize the level of play that we have on our team.''

Gaspar, who works under Portuguese head coach Carlos Queiroz, was accompanied by two Farsi-speaking defenders - Amirhossein Sadeghi and Pejman Montazeri.

''We will definitely try to make our country proud,'' Montazeri said through a translator. ''Our first and main objective is against Nigeria and we have to focus on that.''

For Gaspar, that determination is shared by all of Montazeri's teammates.

''The players are confident yet humble,'' Gaspar said. ''This team is prepared to sacrifice, to suffer, to fight with humility and represent Iran the best possible way.''

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Follow Heller on Twitter (at)aronhellerap

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