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Yakhchali and Iran target revenge against Iraq in second window
TEHRAN (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - Behnam Yakhchali was not around when Iran lost to Iraq in the first window of the Asian Qualifiers, but he's just as pumped to get some payback.
Yakhchali remembers watching that game from home, unable to play as he was sidelined by an injury.
"In the first window, I got hurt before the team traveled to Jordan," he said. "But hopefully, in this window, I'll play for the national team and help them in every way I can."
The 6ft 3in (1.91m) combo wingman certainly would have been able to help Team Melli in the first window, especially after he averaged 16.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 three-pointers per game in the FIBA Asia Cup 2017. Yakhchali felt that Iran just weren't fully ready in their first game but that the home crown buoyed them in the second one against Qatar.
"In the first game, we didn't play very well. We weren't mentally prepared," he explained. "But in the second, we were playing in front of our home crowd. Then we were very motivated, especially after that tough loss to Iraq, so we came out ready."
"OUR PREVIOUS GENERATION DIDN'T GET A CHANCE TO REPRESENT THEIR COUNTRY AT HOME SO IT'S GREAT TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT AND TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE AT HOME" Yakhchali
Yakhchali is aching to don Iran's national kit anew in February, and though they face Kazakhstan on the road first, the entire team has the Iraq game circled in their calendars. They have but one goal - revenge.
"Obviously we play Iraq and we have been waiting for this game to get our revenge," he said. "About Kazakhstan, we haven't been able to watch their games, but we have to be prepared because it's not going to be easy for us to beat them on their home court."
What makes their second meeting with the Iraqis different is the fact that Iran will be playing at home, and Yakhchali believes it will be a critical factor in their performance. He feels fortunate to be part of the new format of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers, where home fans get to see their national squads in action.
"It's a great honor to play for the Iranian national team," he exclaimed. "Our previous generation didn't get a chance to represent the country at home, so it's great to be able to do that and take a full advantage of it. Also, it's good for the fans to be able to support their national team."
Iran travel to Kazakhstan on February 22 to try and tarnish the Steppe Wolves' unblemished slate before hosting Iraq three days later.