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World Cup Preview – Iran (8/32)

Iran

AFC

Group B

Best WC Performance: 14th (Round One) – 1978

Current World Ranking: 37

History

Iran’s appearance in Russia marks the first time they’ve appeared in consecutive World Cups. 2018 will be their fifth in total, following 1978, 1998, 2006 and Brazil 2014.

In every previous appearance they failed to make it past the group stages, and currently have the dismal record of only one win from 12 matches in total (a 2-1 victory over the USA in 1998).

Their record in Asia is better. Three-time champions of the continent, Iran also have a host of semi-final appearances under their belt, but none since 2004.

Historically renowned for their defensive style, do not expect this Iranian team to play expansive football this summer.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo).

Defenders: Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal).

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Haji Safi (Olympiacos), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest).

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds).

Group Fixtures:

  1. Vs Morocco 16:00, 15.06.18                             Krestovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg
  2. Vs Spain 19:00, 20.06.18                                  Kazan Arena, Kazan
  3. Vs Portugal 19:00, 25.06.18                                  Mordovia Arena, Saransk

Manager – Carlos Queiroz

Former Manchester United Assistant Manager Carlos Queiroz is the tactician behind Iran and currently holds the record of being their longest serving manager. Having joined in 2011, Portuguese Queiroz shook up Iranian football by bringing in players with Iranians raised abroad, with positive results.

Now 65, Queiroz began his career playing as a goalkeeper in Mozambique before turning his hand to management. He is best known for being Sir Alex Ferguson’s number two over two spells in the noughties, which sandwiched an unsuccessful period in charge of Real Madrid.

Qualification

Rarely will a qualification period go by with such ease as Iran’s 2018 AFC campaign. Drawn alongside Oman, Turkmenistan, Guam and India in round two, they won the group at a canter.

Round three pitted them against South Korea, Uzbekistan, China, Qatar and an inspired Syria outfit, requiring a top two finish to secure qualification to Russia. Over their ten games, they provided a masterclass of Asian football. Though they scored only ten goals, they conceded just two (both against Syria after qualification had been won), as they edged past team after team, consistently picking up points while others battled.

Captain – Masoud Shojaei

Despite being national team captain, Masoud Shojaei is not the most popular man in Iran at the moment. After playing a club match against Maccabi Tel Aviv of political enemy Israel, Iran’s deputy minister for sports declared that he would never appear for his country again. The pressure for his recall eventually told however and he was called up for friendlies in March.

A tricky attacking midfielder, Shojaei is in the twilight of his career at 33. Since his debut 14 years ago, he has won 72 caps, and currently plays club football in Greece for AEK Athens.

Danger man – Sardar Azmoun

Rubin Kazan striker Sardar Azmoun is Iran’s biggest threat in Russia. Labelled the Iranian Messi, 23-year-old Azmoun plays his club football in Kazan (location of Iran’s second group match, against Spain) and currently has 23 goals in 31 national appearances.

Confident on the ball and excellent in the air, Iran will be looking to him for moments of magic to get them out of a difficult Group B.

Premier League Players

No players currently based in the Premier League will be travelling with Iran this summer. Midfielder Ashkan Dejagah is the only player with any experience of the English top-flight; after a spell at Fulham between 2012 and 2014, but he currently plays in the Championship with Nottingham Forest.

Former Charlton striker Reza Ghoochanejhad now plays in the Netherlands with Heerenveen and is the only other member of the squad to have played in England.

Prediction

Could it happen? Realistically to stand a chance they must beat Morocco in their tournament opener, but even after that the odds would be against them. Carlos Queiroz knows they will likely have to pick up at least one point from Portugal or Spain, which is a very tall order. What everyone knows however, is that Iran possess the defensive resilience to frustrate anyone on their day.

Four years ago, they made it through 90 minutes before Lionel Messi broke Iranian hearts in injury time. The game plan will surely be the same, but they now have Sardar Azmoun, a player with quality capable of sneaking a goal.

Unlikely, but I have a feeling…

Written by Sam Hanys.

Sam Hanys

Ipswich Town fan and Loughborough University student.

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