Behind many athletes, there are tales of overcoming adversity and defying the odds. Qatar 2022 will be the showpiece event of the year, but many players who will now take the limelight in the FIFA World Cup had to go through a lot in the past. If not, ask Alireza Beiranvand.
The 30-year-old Persepolis goalkeeper will play in his second World Cup with Iran, hoping to continue writing history at the international stage. His previous experience in Russia 2018 is one that he'll always remember, as he saved a penalty shot from Portugal megastar Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Beiranvand will never forget all the obstacles he had to face on his way to becoming a professional soccer player — including having to sleep on the streets. Every single thing he had to endure throughout his life could have threatened his dreams, but they only made him stronger.
Alireza Beiranvand's history: Born to a nomad family
Born September 21, 1992, in Sarabias, Lorestan, to a nomad family, Beiranvand didn't know about stability until much later in his life. With his family constantly on the move, Alireza — the eldest son — was made to work as a shepherd from an early age.
However, during his free time he loved to play soccer and local game Dal Paran, which consisted in throwing stones long distances. Eventually, that made him develop an ability to throw deep balls as a goalkeeper, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Beiranvand initially played as a striker for a local club in Sarabias, where his family settled in when he was 12. But one day he had to put on the gloves when the goalkeeper got injured, and stayed between the sticks ever since.
Alireza, however, faced an early obstacle as his family disapproved his desire of pursuing a career in soccer. In an interview with Behnam Jafarzadeh published in The Guardian, Beiranvand revealed that his father even tore up his kit and gloves as he didn't saw soccer as a proper job for his son.
Challenging his family to pursue his own dreams
Alireza had a difficult decision to make. With his family standing on his way, Beiranvand trusted his gut and ran away from home to pursue an opportunity at bigger clubs in Tehran. In an appearance on a TV program aired on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting in 2016, Beiranvand said that once he had enough savings plus borrowed money from a relative, he packed his things and bought a ticket to the Iranian capital.
He was taking a huge risk, with nowhere to go nor enough savings to live day by day. Destiny made him meet Hossein Feiz (a local soccer coach) on the bus, but Beiranvand didn't have the 200,000 tomans ($30 by then) the coach asked him for a trial.
Sleeping on the streets
With nowhere to live, Beiranvand slept along with other poor migrants on the streets of Tehran around Azadi Tower. His luck changed when Feiz desisted and let him have a trial for free, later asking the captain to let Alireza stay with him.
Another teammate later offered him a job at his father's dressmaking factory, where Beiranvand worked and slept. He later worked in a car wash, though that didn't last long as he was recruited by a Naft Tehran coach who spotted him during a youth game.
The club let him sleep in a prayer room but shortly after Alireza had to find another place to live. Therefore, he got a job at a pizza shop to have somewhere to sleep. Beiranvand later left that job but ended up accepting to work as a street cleaner.
When the dream almost died
An injury sustained while he trained with another team cost him a place at Naft, making Beiranvand look for an opportunity at Homa. There, Alireza felt his dream was fading away as the coach was unwilling to give him a contract.
Still without a club, Beiranvand's fate changed when the Naft U23 head coach invited him to come back. From then on, there was no turning back for Alireza. No more looking for occasional jobs, places to sleep or clubs.
His level caught the eye of the Iranian U23 national team, and he was later promoted to the Naft senior squad to be the starting goalkeeper. His career took a step forward in April 2015 during an Asian Champions League game.
The world got to know Beiranvand's powerful arm when he threw a long ball against Tractor Sazi, which caught the eye of FIFA and soon became a hit on the Internet, being watched by over 100 million people across the world.
That year he also established himself at the Iran national team starting lineup, helping its country reach the 2018 World Cup. Beiranvand's highlight in that tournament came in a group stage clash against Portugal, saving a penalty kick from Ronaldo when his side was 0-1 down. His save kept Iran afloat and helped them tie the game.
On the road to that World Cup, Beiranvand also set a world-record 61.26 metres throw in a game against South Korea. That saw the Iranian goalkeeper receive a Guinness World Record for "Farthest distance throw of a football in a competitive match."
It was not an easy road, but Alireza's determination proved stronger than any obstacle that stood on his way. Will he help Iran have a memorable performance in Qatar? Using this World Cup Predictor, you can see every potential outcome of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.