“There is no better ambassador than football”

REUTERS/KIM HONG-JI

Dan Gaspar, assistant coach of the Iranian national soccer team said it best.  Since the 1970s, Gaspar, an American,  has coached several teams throughout the world, from leagues in Portugal to Japan to South Africa. He called his most recent gig as Iran’s coach a “unique opportunity,” enabling him to experience an Iran quite unlike what is typically portrayed in the media. “It may sound strange to most people, but I’ve worked on four continents and Iran is one of the safest places I’ve worked in,” he said.

In the spirit of shattering cultural misconceptions, let’s take a moment to meet a few of the Iranian players Gaspar is coaching, with this great breakdown by AP writer John Duerden. I’ll be rooting for Team Melli as they face Nigeria, Bosnia and Argentina in the first round. All I ask, World Cup Gods, is that they advance to the second stage this year…