It is no secret that teenage sensation Hossein Kaebi is pulling his weight for Branko Ivankovic's Iranian national team. One of his boss' favourites, the diminutive, 1.74-meter tall defender, is one of the planet's fastest footballers. When asked how fast he could complete the 100-metre dash, he told FIFAworldcup.com proudly, "I think I can do it in under 10 seconds!"
Called into the national team at 17, it was always going to be a tough ask for the teenager to earn a regular place among Iran's many stars. However, Kaebi did a sparkling job with both Iran's senior and under-23 national teams in 2004, repaying Ivankovic's faith. Now, with only one month to go before the Asian Zone's final round of qualifying for 2006 Germany, the 19-year-old's next goal is "a place at the finals."
Fleet of foot, mind
In Team Melli's 4-2-3-1 formation, Kaebi has been appointed starting right back by coach Ivankovic in order to shore up the defence alongside 34-year-old Yahva Golmohammadi, Italy-based Rahman Razaei and Ali Badavi. Though this might seem a stressful task for the young featherweight, who scales in at only 65 kg, the Foulad starlet has proven himself ferocious in the tackle and willing to battle for every ball.
"He (Hossein) is a very reliable player and he has good strength and speed despite his small stature," said his Foulad club and national teammate Eman Mobali. "The amazing thing is that he combines tough tackling and quick reactions perfectly."
Kaebi has proven himself a trusted defender, earning the respect of his more-established teammates. But Ivankovic is eager for more from the youngster than his current role as speedy utility man.
The attack-minded and mercurial teenager is a real nightmare for opposition players. His speed and shrewd reactions help him pull off moments of wonderful improvisation and invention - with his assist to Ali Karimi to open scoring against Korea Republic in a recent Asian Cup qualifier the most exciting to date.
He came on in the 10th minute in a lull in the Taeguk Warriors' previously consistent attack. Mehdi Mahdavakia's long ball seemed a bit too long, but Kaebi turned on the jets to chase it down the right flank and hook it back from the byline, perfectly picking out Karimi who glanced his header into the Korean net.
"I know some people are suspicious of my small physique I am not that tall or strong, but it also gives me better speed and quicker reactions. Football needs all types of players and I believe my style can help the team," Kaebi recently told FIFAworldcup.com.
Keeping a cool head
"He is very intelligent and clever and he can play in many positions," added Eman Mobali. Kaebi proved Mobali spot-on in Iran's 3-0 victory over New Zealand in the AFC/OFC Challenge Cup in 2003. In the 67th minute, up 2-0, Kaebi put the icing on the cake with a typically rampaging run down the right flank and a delicate flick just inside the near post.
At the start of the 2004 Asian Cup, Kaebi told FIFAworldup.com he was fighting for a regular place in the team. Now, five months on with Team Melli ready to vie for at Germany 2006 in Group B against Japan, Bahrain and Korea DPR, he has established himself a regular starter.
"I have improved a lot under coach Ivankovic and gained tremendous experience," the player said. "Of course I still need to get better though."
A bright future
Kaebi's ability and diligence are not only praised in Asian football circles, but the player has also raised the eyebrows of a few European club scouts. He traveled to England in 2003 for a three-week trial with then Premier League outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers. The trip boosted his confidence, moving him one step closer to following in the footsteps of his idol and national teammate Ali Daei.
"It would be nice to have a chance to play with a top European club," the player said. "That way I will quickly improve my skills, mentality and experience as well but I know I am still young and I need to continue to work hard for that dream to come true."