Iron Sheik hoping for Iran to pull off hulking upset

Legendary wrestler Iron Sheik shows up at Toronto City Hall to try to meet with Mayor Rob Ford in...

Legendary wrestler Iron Sheik shows up at Toronto City Hall to try to meet with Mayor Rob Ford in Toronto, Ont. on Wednesday November 6, 2013. (Ernest Doroszuk/QMI Agency)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:38 PM ET

MANAUS, Brazil -- The Iron Sheik understands heartbreak.

Like his home nation's World Cup team, the wrestling legend -- real name Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri -- also appeared seconds away from pulling off an upset for the ages.

For Iran, it was a last-gasp loss courtesy Argentina's Lionel Messi, whose world-class curler spoiled the Sheik's party after he'd spent the morning taunting Argentina from afar.

The Sheik, WWF fans will recall, suffered the same result in a 1984 match against Hulk Hogan in New York City, where the 72-year-old Iranian's Camel Clutch didn't pan out.

Now, the WWF villain -- still in character, it seems -- has his heart set on seeing his Middle East brethren advance beyond the World Cup group stage in Brazil.

Unsurprisingly, he also sees a little bit of himself in the Iranian team.

"They work hard," the Sheik told QMI Agency in an exclusive exchange. "They do the training. They practice. They love the sport. They respect the country. This way, they Iron Sheik class."

The Sheik, who now shares his time between Toronto and Atlanta, has mastered the art of trolling. It's what he did best during his time in wrestling.

During Saturday's Iran match the former world champ took shots at Messi, Diego Maradona and, well, the entire country of Argentina.

Twenty years ago, he did the same to U.S. wrestling fans by backing Iraq during the first Gulf War, a shtick -- or was it? -- he was famous for.

Like Iran over the weekend, he still thinks he could have got a result against Hogan back in '84.

He added he's sure Iran can beat Bosnia and continue playing some more.

"Bubba, my match against the Hogan I could break his leg, put him in Camel Clutch, make him humble," the Sheik told QMI Agency. "For the Vince McMahon, I do the right (thing) for the business. Iran play against the world in the soccer, one of toughest sports. They show the world they no Jabronis. This way, I have lot of respect for them."

In a way, the Iranian team isn't that unlike the Sheik. The AFC qualifiers are divisive, with many pundits bashing their overtly-defensive tactics. Against Argentina, they sat with 10 guys behind the ball, often as deep as 30 metres from goal. They also played Nigeria to a goalless draw that, at times, was nap-worthy.

Iran is Sheik-like in its ability to frustrate teams to the point they're out of ideas.

On just one point, though, the Iranians will need to take more chances going forward considering they're in need goals.

Still, the team and its backers acknowledge defending is what got them to Brazil, the team's third appearance at a finals since 1978 after missing out four years ago.

"The defence always wins," Sheik said of Iran's tendency to sit back.

The team conceded just four goals through qualifying to get to this point -- a stat that places them among the most resolute sides in the world.

There's one more thing, the iconic wrestler added: "Never give up or you are big time Jabroni," he said.

The Iranians will need some help if they're to advance.

First, they need Argentina to beat Nigeria -- likely by multiple goals.

Then, Iran needs to knock off Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was eliminated by Nigeria on Saturday.

Can they do it?

"10,000%" Sheik responded. "If they listen to Iron Sheik."

Which got me thinking: I seem to recall another wrestling legend giving a pre-game pep talk during last year's NFL playoffs.

That's right, Ric Flair, another wrestling villain, was approached by the San Francisco 49ers to provide inspiration last year.

Flair obliged, entered the dressing room and pumped the Niners up ahead of an eventual playoff win.

If you're Iran, who better to commission than the Iron Sheik to lighten the locker room ahead of a pivotal World Cup match?

After all, the Sheik understands how it feels at the top and the bottom. Throughout his career, he was the outlier fans loved to lambast.

Like Iran's national soccer team, his style was easy to dislike, yet effective at the same time.

Now, Iran is looking to pull off an upset of hulking proportions in order to advance.

IRAN, SHEIK LET DOWN BY… MARADONA?

Iran might have picked up a crucial point against Argentina on Saturday had the South American side's bad luck charm stayed until the end.

Argentine legend Maradona, who has already been the genesis of a number of World Cup controversies in Brazil already, has responded to Argentina Football Association president Julio Grondona's claim that the World Cup favourites won Saturday only after Maradona left his seat late in the match.

Within minutes, Lionel Messi's fantastic finish in the 91st minute broke Iranian hearts, sending Argentina through to the knockout phase.

"The bad luck charm left the stadium and we won," Grondona said, according to a reporter from the UK's Daily Mirror.

Maradona's response was about what you'd expect: He held up his middle finger for a TV crew later in the day.

Earlier in the tournament, Maradona, who led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, claimed he was denied entry into the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro -- something FIFA says it has no record of. The 53-year-old has also come out against England captain Steven Gerrard following the Three Lions' early World Cup exit.

After beating Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1 in its Group F opener, Argentina topped stingy Iran 1-0 on Saturday to progress to the next phase.

Sunday was the 28th anniversary of Maradona's iconic "Hand of God" goal is against England.


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