Kazan (Russia) (AFP) – Daniel Arzani was born in Iran and would not look out of place among the ‘Lions of Persia’ side that stunned Morocco in their World Cup opener.
Arzani’s heart was “pumping” with Aussie pride when he came off the bench to make his World Cup debut in a 2-1 defeat to France in Kazan, the tournament’s youngest player attributes his “cocky” reputation to hours of playing street football in his native Khorramabad.
“A lot of it,” Arzani said Monday when asked how street football helped forge a natural confidence that has given Australians another reason to believe ahead of a crucial match against Denmark on Thursday.
“Growing up playing in the streets you have to have that, or else you get eaten alive by the other boys.
“I think that’s where I get a lot of it from.”
Born in January 1999, Arzani was six years old when his family moved to Australia.
The rest — dreaming of becoming a professional, coming through an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) programme and signing for A-League side Melbourne City in 2016 — is history.
Although “really happy” for his native Iran, Arzani wants to make his own mark, for Australia.
“Obviously when we left Iran it was because my parents wanted a better life for me and my brother,” said Arzani, whose maiden international goal, an impressive right-foot strike from the left edge of the area, came in a recent 2-1 friendly over Hungary.
“To be able to represent the country that helped us is special.”
– ‘The next Harry Kewell’ –
With slick dribbling skills and a keen eye for goal, Arzani is already being talked of as the next Harry Kewell, the former Leeds, Liverpool and Galatasaray front man whose Socceroos debut, at 17 years and seven months, came against Chile in April 1996.
But Australia great Tim Cahill has been among his biggest influences in the lead-up to Russia.
Unused against France, Cahill is hoping to become only the fourth player in history after Pele and German pair Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose to score in four consecutive World Cups.
At 38 and double Arzani’s age, the former Everton star’s other role could be just as important for the future of Australian football.
“I mentor them and I push them,” said Cahill.
Arzani calls it “tough love”, and for Cahill there’s nothing better to prepare for the big stage of World Cup games.
“When you play in front of a full house… the lactic acid builds up, the (weight of) expectation, the legs go weak, become numb, the mind goes fuzzy,” said Cahill.
“You can’t practise for that.”
Cahill added: “I didn’t have that explosive talent, but what I had was hard work.
“So how now do I fuse that hard work and discipline into his (Arzani’s) life? I give him no choice.”
An his first major media appearance Monday, Arzani — when confronted by rows of journalists — remarked: “Jesus Christ, this is pretty cool.”
But it prompted more laughter than ire, as he went on to explain: “I think I’m confident in what I do, it’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.
“Some people take that as being cocky. For me it doesn’t matter, I just want to be me and do the best that I can.”
It is an attitude he hopes Van Marwijk will exploit if Australia need that extra spark against Denmark, or in their last group game against Peru.
“He (Van Marwijk) tells me to go out there and not be afraid to take risks and ‘do my actions’, as he likes to say,” said Arzani.
“I think it’s important to have a coach that backs you enough to let you do your own thing.
“I feel like I’m ready. I’ve tried my hardest and that’s all you can do. It’s just up to the boss now.”