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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 12:13 GMT
Daei looks to 2006
Ali Daei
Daei had come under criticism for his performances up front
Record-breaking Iran striker Ali Daei - the first player in the history of international football to score 100 goals - has told the BBC he plans to continue playing for his country until 2006, and potentially the World Cup finals.

The 35-year-old had come under pressure in Iran from some who felt that, as his career heads towards its end, he has lost too much to function as an effective striker.

But Daei then scored four goals - including his 100th - in a 7-0 win over Laos that ensured Iran went through to the next round of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.

"Right now I'm just thinking about qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Iran," Daei told BBC World Service's World Football programme.

"I'm happy with the memories of Germany - I lived and played there for five years, and made lots of good friends.

"I'd love to play there in an Iran shirt."

World Cup dream

Daei is officially the most prolific striker in the 132-year history of international football.

He was one of the first Asian footballers to play in a major European league - featuring in Germany's Bundesliga for Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin - and has done a great deal of work to raise the profile of Iranian football after making his debut against Oman in 1993.

Ali Daei playing for Hertha Berlin in the Champions League against Chelsea
Daei was the first Asian to score in the Champions League
"I was so proud when I wore the international strip for the first time - I couldn't swap that feeling with anything," Daei said.

"Those heroes and soldiers who sacrifice themselves for the nation always have their coffins covered with the national flag. Us players are like those soldiers - we wear the national flag when we play."

Daei has featured in Iran's most memorable matches - notably helping the country qualify for the 1998 World Cup on away goals after a 2-2 draw in a play-off against Australia.

"I always had faith that we would reach the World Cup, even though we were two goals behind," Daei said.

"We were determined to get the result, because it was a game of life and death. With God's help, we broke the pressure and scored two goals to reach the World Cup."

Daei went on to play in France '98 against Iran's political enemies the US - when Iran won their first ever World Cup match.

"None of us were interested in politics - just the football and the sport," he said.

"Everyone was crying with joy. I think every Muslim in the world was as happy as we were that night."

And he recalled the "huge effect" that victory had had.

"The best thing about the World Cup was that it brought Iranians around the world closer together," he argued.

"I think football gave Iranians a reason to once again think about their country."

Trailblazer

Daei blazed a trail for not only Iranians, but other Asian players in Europe - he was the first Asian footballer to play in the Champions League - while at Bayern Munich - and the first to score in the competition, for Hertha Berlin.

He was named Asian Player of the Year in 1999.

Ali Daei playing for Iran against USA
Daei was instrumental in Iran's run to the 1998 World Cup finals in France
However, despite these achievements, Daei has remained committed to Iran over his club.

Now in the twilight of his career, Daei is on the receiving end of some criticism from the notoriously fickle Iran fans.

In particular, some believe he has lost too much pace to operate effectively as a striker anymore.

But Shaheen Rachmani, editor of Iran's leading sports newspaper Iran-e-Varzeshi, said that after Daei's retirement he would be remembered as the player who "rescued" Iranian football.

"He was a man who scored many goals, a man who attended all national matches without any objection," he added.

"He travelled all the time, and was there every time we needed him."


SEE ALSO
Daei brace sinks Bahrain
06 Aug 04 |  Internationals
Iran learn the hard way
13 Feb 03 |  World Football
More misery for Daei
22 Oct 02 |  World Football
Iran takes football to its heart
09 Nov 01 |  World Cup 2002


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