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Thursday, June 22, 2006
Iran seek new direction after coach departs

BERLIN, June 22 (Reuters) - Iran were left to find new leadership on Thursday, a day after their hopes for at least one victory at the World Cup were shattered by finishing bottom of their group with one point.

Iran's coach Branko Ivankovic said after the 1-1 draw against Angola on Wednesday he was now looking for new challenges, while the head of the football federation was sacked and an official apology extended to the nation.

'The Physical Education Organisation apologises to the Iranian nation for its wounded pride,' authorities said.

Iran failed to win a single match in their third World Cup finals, losing 2-0 to Portugal and 3-1 to Mexico before drawing with Angola, and missed their own target of making it through to the second round.

The team that had hailed themselves as Iran's best ever side, simply did not have the experience to keep up 90 minutes at a time, with the younger players' power fading fast in the second halves.

The more experienced members of the squad, some of whom play for clubs abroad, were plagued by injuries and never got into full form, with FC Bayern's Ali Karimi just one case in point.

But on Wednesday, Iran midfielder Mehdi Mahdavikia said they should have won.

'There is no question we were the better side. We also created better chances and it is a real shame we did not capitalise on them,' he told reporters.

'We are out of the World Cup with just a single point to our name and we should have done better. That is annoying.'

Still, while there are question marks over who will coach Iran in the future, Mahdavikia said the mix of old players -- such as 37-year-old record scorer Ali Daei -- and young players stood the team in good stead for the future.

If Iran's players were disappointed with their early elimination, their departure helped scupper a potential diplomatic run-in.

Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had left open whether he would visit the World Cup, has faced criticism across Europe in the past for inflammatory remarks about Israel and statements questioning whether the Holocaust happened.

While European leaders stopped short of banning him from visiting, they made it clear he would have faced a frosty welcome.




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