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Saturday, June 17, 2006
Ivankovic laments inexperience as Iran crash

FRANKFURT, June 17 (Reuters) - Coach Branko Ivankovic blamed Iran's World Cup elimination on inexperience and injuries after their 2-0 defeat by Portugal on Saturday.

Iran's hopes, as in Argentina in 1978 and France in 1998, ended at the first round stage following a second Group D reverse, having lost 3-1 to Mexico in their opening game.

'I rate my players, but they don't have the experience and we have had some problems with injuries in our preparations,' said the Croatian coach, who before the finals hailed his Iran team as the best the Islamic Republic has ever had.

Iran held their own against one of tournament's dark horses until the 63rd minute when Portugal midfielder Deco lashed in a fine shot from outside the box.

'It was hard for us to equalise after that,' said Ivankovic, who felt his team, until Deco's intervention, were taking 'the rhythm of play in their hands'.

Ivankovic defended his decision to leave out 37-year-old striker Ali Daei, Iran's captain and the only footballer to score more than 100 international goals, because he wanted more pace in his side.

Daei, who Ivankovic had said would start, was doubtful after a back injury and had come under fire for his performance in the first match.

Iran, whose only World Cup victory came against the United States in 1998, will be targeting a second win when they face Angola in their final group game in Leipzig on Wednesday.

'I want my players to treat it like life and death,' added Ivankovic. 'We should not need motivating just because we are out.'

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