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Iran marches past USA to rejuvenate VNL campaign
A straight-set victory over USA on Thursday saw Iran get back to winning ways at the Volleyball Nations League (VNL).
Stepping onto the court at Sofia’s Armeets Arena on the back of successive defeats against Japan and Bulgaria, Behrouz Ataei’s men stunned the volleyball heavyweight – on a perfect record prior to the match – in the first set, walking away with a 25-18 win.
The Americans then started to deliver a much-improved performance but the Asian powerhouse kept the composure to come up victorious (29-27, 27-25) in two nail-biting sets for a third victory in five outings.
Opposite spiker Amin Esmaeilnejad was again the star of the night for Iran, chipping in a game-high 20 points, while skipper Milad Ebadipour and Amirhossein Esfandiar also made significant contributions with 15 and 13 points respectively.
Torey Defalco topped the scoring for USA with 13, followed by Kyle Ensing, who had 11.
The victory comes as a relief for the Iranian coach, who has been facing somewhat of an unfair criticism in recent weeks over his team selection and managerial methods in certain situations of the game.
Ever since taking the job following last year’s Tokyo Olympics, Ataei – an ex-head coach of Iran’s world U21 title-winning side – has embarked on an overhaul job in the squad as he eyes success with the country at the Paris Games in two years’ time.
“The players were under a lot of pressure after a couple of defeats, but, thank God, their hard work paid off [against USA],” Ataei said in a post-match interview.
“They delivered a high quality in critical circumstances and took the points in some tough rallies. We still have a long way to go, but I hope the victory paves the way for further success at this year’s event,” added the Iranian.
No matter what the future holds for Ataei and his young and inexperienced side, Thursday’s win will surely go down as a watershed moment in their journey toward the Olympic Games.
Portuguese Morais appointed Sepahan head coach
Portuguese manager José Morais signed a three-year contract to take the job at the Persian Gulf Pro League club Sepahan.
Morais, 56, will replace ex-Sepahan skipper Moharam Navidkia, who stepped down from his role in early June after leading the club to runner-up and third-spot finishes in the Iranian top flight in the past two seasons.
A former assistant to Portuguese great José Mourinho during his time at Chelsea, Inter, and Real Madrid, Morais is no stranger to the Asian football, enjoying successful spells in South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Morais led Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to the K League 1 title in 2019 and then celebrated a domestic double with the club a year later.
The Portuguese joined Al Hilal in May 2021 on a contract until the end season, which finished with the league triumph for the Saudi Blue Waves.
Morais will be the first foreign coach to take over at Sepahan since late Croatian Zlatko Kranjcar – a league winner with the Isfahan-based side in 2012 – hoping to bring an end to the club’s seven-year title drought.
Sepahan will be eager to step up its transfer activity under Morais, having already seen Soroush Rafiei, Danial Esmaeilifar, Giorgi Gvelesiani leave for Persepolis, while prolific striker Sajjad Shahbaz-Zadeh reunited with Esteghlal.
Former Gol Gohar Sirjan fullback Milad Zakipour has been Sepahan’s sole recruitment ahead of next season, set to kick off in mid-August.
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