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Asian champions Iran under scrutiny at Spain 2014
GRANADA (FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Asia's dominant force Iran will be put to the test in Group A of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Granada, Spain.
As a result of their impressive continental campaign, the winners of the FIBA Asia Championship 2013 and this summer's FIBA Asia Cup, are currently enjoying a 16-1 record over the last year, having only lost to China in Wuhan.
Nevertheless, when they face Spain on Saturday evening in their World Cup opener, the experience might be just a little different for Memi Becirovic's men, who will also take on France, Egypt, Brazil and Serbia in the Group Phase.
The host nation, eager to repeat its 2006 FIBA World Championship title run in front of home fans, could put some pressure on Iran's impressive record.
And playing without Sajjad Mashayekhi, an emerging shooting guard, who suffered an eye injury in practice just two days before the World Cup tips off, makes Iran's campaign harder to climb.
Becirovic, who took charge just over two summers ago, remains adamant that his team came to Granada to compete and he knows how to keep his team motivated.
"The motivation comes from our success in the past three years, in which we won everything including FIBA Asia Cup as well as the FIBA Asia Championship.
"I must acknowledge that we are still a few steps behind the biggest teams in our group.
"Basketball in Asia is relatively behind comparing to European and the Americas, but this gap tends to progressively decrease every four years."
Hamed Hadadi, who spent four years in the NBA and Samad Bahrami who has experienced European basketball at club level, are some of the players in the squad, set to make Iranians proud in Spain 2014.
“This is the toughest group in this World Cup,” says Becirovic.
Standing 20th in FIBA bwin Ranking, Iran is many places above Egypt.
For Becirovic competing in the World Cup is not just about rankings.
"Everybody expects Iran and Egypt to be eliminated in the first round, but we will play hard and try to surprise someone," he warned.
"Of course the other four teams are stronger than us, but we are the champions of Asia and we have some quality. We are not under pressure and our goal is to make it to the top-16.
"We have beaten Egypt at the William Jones Cup (last month in Taiwan). Egypt is not a bad team, and they can surprise anyone in this group too."
As for the injured Mashayekhi, a shooting guard who led Iran in scoring at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship with 14.6 points, Becirovic says he will have to adapt other players at the guard position.
"Unfortunately he won't be able to continue in the competition. Medical staff say he should rest for three weeks. We should be able to select 14 players rather than 12 in the roster."