Kuala Lumpur, Jan 17: As the Islamic Republic of Iran embark on their first appearance at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022, head coach Maryam Irandoost is tasked not only with succeeding on the pitch but transforming perceptions off it.
In the latest Asian Football Confederation (AFC)’s immensely popular “It’s My Game” series, the woman behind IR Iran’s women’s national team explains where the game has come from and the future of women’s football in the country.
To many, it was the feel-good story of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 qualification process. To Maryam Irandoost, it was the culmination of her life’s work.
When the Islamic Republic of Iran’s women’s national team, nicknamed Team Melli Banovan, arrived in the Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent for their September 2021 qualifiers, they did so as the world’s 72nd ranked side, and one which had never qualified for Asia’s women’s national team flagship tournament.
They had tried, and failed, to reach the AFC Women’s Asian Cups in 2010, 2014 and 2018, but a spirited performance earned them a historic qualification that would alter the landscape of women’s football in the country.
“In terms of the results achieved by our team, I am the most satisfied person on the planet,” she said.
“But from a technical point of view, our team has many areas to improve on and we are trying to solve these shortcomings during our training camps, so that we can be in better condition in the future and minimise our weaknesses.
“Everyone knows that the women’s football team in IR Iran has just been formed and we cannot solve all the shortcomings and problems in a short time, but I must say that we are all trying to solve these problems with more work, efforts and training harder.”
It is clear that Iranian women’s football has made extraordinary strides, particularly when Irandoost – the daughter of former Iranian player and coach Nosrat Irandoost – reflects on where it began.
“I have gone through these 42 years and have often been asked why a girl should play football, (and it is) better to cook Ghorme Sabzi,” she said, referring to the popular Iranian herb stew.
“Do you believe that I hate Ghorme Sabzi and I do not eat it anymore?
“You no longer need to say who we are because all Iranians have seen our videos and photos and I am sure everyone knows about us and they know about Iranian women’s football.”
Team Melli Banovan’s qualification has supercharged the awareness of the women’s national team within their football-loving nation, but it is only the beginning of a larger story if Irandoost’s long-term vision is to be fulfilled.
“When your team is among the top 12 in Asia and will soon participate in the most prestigious national women’s football tournament, then it will definitely have a positive impact on Iranian women’s football,” she declared.
“I expect that, with proper planning, our women’s national teams will be organised in other age groups and a five-year plan for the growth and development of women’s football will be implemented.
“If the support from the Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran and the people of IR Iran continues, I promise you that we will reach the FIFA Women’s World Cup in the next five years.”
Launched on the AFC Women’s Football Day on March 8 in 2018, the AFC’s ‘It’s My Game’ campaign has honoured inspiring women in football from throughout the world’s largest Continent, reaching over 2.39 million people via the AFC’s digital channels.
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