Cheshmi was a rock in the center of defense as Iran scored late to open its campaign with a 1-0 victory over Morocco in Saint Petersburg, but he was injured before the next game and had to watch from the sidelines as his teammates put in valiant performances against Spain and Portugal, the-afc.com reported.
Iran, also known as Team Melli, ultimately narrowly missed out on qualification to the next stage to end its and Cheshmi’s dream of a first appearance in the knockout rounds, but the 25-year-old is now back to full fitness and raring to go ahead of the UAE 2019.
“That injury was a very sad moment for me as I lost the chance to play against Spain and Portugal,” reflected Cheshmi, who was part of the Iranian Persian Gulf Pro League club Esteghlal that progressed to the 2018 AFC Champions League quarterfinals.
“But that regret only motivates me to fight more for the Asian Cup, to be part of Team Melli’s squad and to get good results. It was a bad time [personally], but it has given me a huge desire for the rest of my football career.
“It is every young football player’s dream to play for their national team and I am so glad this dream has come true for me. I will always give everything when I play for Iran.”
Cheshmi made his international debut in a goalless draw with Korea Republic during the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in August 2017, after Iran had already confirmed its place in Russia, and the defender did enough to persuade coach Carlos Queiroz that he was worthy of a place in the final 23-man squad.
Since returning from injury he has been a regular fixture in the national team setup.
With Iran benefiting from an experienced and professional Portuguese coach – who has served at the helm of the national squad for almost eight years, Team Melli’s next aim is to break a run of three successive quarterfinal eliminations and lift a title it last won in 1976.
“Of course, Queiroz’s tactical knowledge has helped us all, but the most important thing is the fighting spirit he has given us,” admitted Cheshmi.
“I think people saw at the World Cup that we were fighting until the 90th minute in every match and gave it all we had to make our country successful.
“This is the most important thing he has brought to the national team, and now the dedication and spirit of the Iranian players is very clear.”
Iran suffered the disappointment of exiting Australia 2015 after penalty shootout defeat to Iraq in the last eight to mean its wait for a fourth continental title dragged into its fourth decade.
But Iranians were superb in progressing to the FIFA World Cup, going nine games without conceding in the third round of qualifying, and then went toe-to-toe with some of the best sides on the planet.
At the AFC Asian Cup, Iran will take on Yemen in its Group D opener in Abu Dhabi, the UAE, on January 7, before playing games against Vietnam and, once again, Iraq.
“I think, as always, Japan, Korea Republic and Australia, along with Iran, are the teams who have the biggest chance of winning the title. It will be the same this time,” added Cheshmi.
“When you think that a country, a generation, is supporting you and they are praying for you to succeed, it’s a very precious feeling which makes me proud. We will do our best to make our people happy.”