- Associated Press - Sunday, June 15, 2014

CURITIBA, Brazil (AP) - Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz sought Sunday to ease the pressure on his players ahead of their opening World Cup game against Nigeria, insisting that international sanctions on the country mean his team is the clear underdog

While bemoaning the effect the sanctions have had on his team, Queiroz heaped praise on the Nigeria team and even said it has the potential to reach the latter stages of the tournament

“The economic and political situations have put a team from Iran at the complete disadvantage in relation to other teams that are here,” Queiroz said.

The sanctions, in response to Iran’s nuclear program, have not only impacted the economy. They’ve impacted funding for the Iran football team, which has had difficulty organizing friendlies.

The president of the country’s football federation also reportedly suggested the players shouldn’t swap shirts with opposing players at the World Cup because of the limited supply.

Queiroz’s comments ahead of Monday’s Group F match at the Arena de Baixada have echoes in the pre-match routine of Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho. Queiroz’s fellow Portuguese often lauds the opponents ahead of big games, and the strategy often works to take pressure off his own team.

If Iran captain Javad Nekounam is anything to go by, Queiroz’s approach seems to be working.

“I have no stress, I don’t feel any pressure on myself,” he said. “We need to be at peace and we need to be calm and enjoy the game tomorrow.”

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi didn’t buy into Queiroz’s tactics, laughing off any suggestions that his team would be affected by any mind-games

“We’ll call them favorites too,” Keshi told a press briefing.

In his three years at the helm, Queiroz, a former coach of Real Madrid and Portugal, has helped ensure Iran is difficult team to beat. But that doesn’t mean the team is overly defensive, he insisted.

“You can play good football when you defend well,” he said. “To defend is part of the game. If we need to defend, I’m telling you we are going to defend. If we need to suffer, I’m telling you, we are going to suffer.”

Like Nigeria, Iran is bidding for its first match win at a World Cup finals since 1998. Iran’s last victory at the World Cup was against the United States in one of the great geopolitical clashes. Iran’s one trip the World Cup since then, at Germany 2006, yielded just a solitary point.

There are hopes that the sanctions will soon be lifted. Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany reached an interim deal in November that limited Iran’s uranium enrichment program in exchange for the easing of some sanctions. The agreement was intended to buy time for the negotiation of a comprehensive deal to resolve the decade-long impasse.

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