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Ahmadinejad Talks Soccer...And Azeri?

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad joins the national team in training in 2006.
On June 7, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad tried to show his softer side. He promised to personally get involved in eliminating anything holding the national soccer team back from success in the international arena.

Ahmadinejad's concern was due to the fact that recent poor performances have left the national team with almost no chance of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Obviously, the president is hoping that getting involved in soccer would boost his election chances, as "the beautiful game" is hugely popular in Iran.

Last week he even sent his presidential jet to Pyongyang to fly the national team back to Tehran after a qualifying game in North Korea, so they could have enough time to prepare for the next game.

On a more surprising note, Ahmadinejad revealed today that he speaks fluent Azeri!

Addressing a crowd in the northwestern town of Tabriz, the president said the he has learned "one of the best and most complete languages -- Azeri" during his eight years working in Ardebil Province.

The president must also be trying to court ethnic Azeris, who make up some 24 percent of Iran's population. Their votes could play a significant impact on the election outcome.

-- Farangis Najibullah