Iran captain says mentality has changed dramatically under Velasco’s leadership
There is no doubt that Julio Velasco is the man who has changed volleyball in Iran and helped the national team improve dramatically in a very short period of time. “Mr. Velasco did not change that much when it comes to our physical preparation or athletic skills. It is all about our mentality and attitude, this is what has changed completely since he started working with us a few years ago,” says Iran team captain Mir Saeid Marouflakrani. “When he first came to Iran, he immediately realized that our country has a lot of good players but we needed a change to disclose their full potential. This is what he has been able to achieve and right now we know we can compete with the best teams in the world” he continues.
Actually Iran used to be a strong force in Asia already for many years but internationally not that much was known about the national team and their members. “I think that the turning point came with our participation in this year’s FIVB World League” stresses the Iranian captain. “We finally got the opportunity to play many international matches with strong teams and not only with the best sides in Asia. As you know, Asian volleyball is not really that strong at the moment and therefore we need to see where we really stand by playing teams from other continents. The World League was the perfect way for us to make it to the next level and the Grand Champions Cup is just a continuation of that trend” Marouflakrani emphasizes.
On Wednesday Iran beat Italy for the second time this year after doing so last June in Modena during the Intercontinental Round of the FIVB World League. “That was a special game for us and also for our coach. Mr. Velasco sky-rocketed to the volleyball elite working with the team from that city which is one of the world’s real volleyball “Meccas”. With this away victory we got another boost and realized that we stand a chance even with the best teams in the world.”
After winning two consecutive editions of the Asian Championship and with this year’s World League, volleyball has become much more popular in Iran, a country mostly known for wrestlers and weightlifters who have regularly claimed Olympic medals. “Many people in Iran are fond of volleyball and with our results we just hope that as many children as possible will be taking up the sport.”
After losing to Brazil on the opening day of the tournament in Kyoto and upsetting Italy, Iran want to perform well also in the second round of the competition coming up this weekend in Tokyo. “We still have another three matches to play and I would be very happy if we could win two” Marouflakrani says. Only three players that participated in the Grand Champions Cup four years ago are still in the group, which means Iran – together with Italy – is one of the youngest teams out there.
“Last year we missed – only by one set – our qualification for the London Olympics. That was only because of our result in the game with Australia. Our main goal now is to finish among the top eight at next year’s World Championship in Poland and after that, of course, we will be playing our best to make it to Rio 2016. If we continue this way and our development does not stop, I think that in one or two years we will belong to the world’s volleyball elite and be a tough rival even for the star-studded sides that are competing here in Japan these days.”