Oh yes, they’re back. Possibly the least ambitious team from the last World Cup (other than England of course) have qualified for the finals in Russia next summer. They were the third team to officially qualify and can only hope for a kind draw when the group stages are decided in December because, if I’m honest, they’re not going to get very far. Nevertheless, here is more than you need to know about Iran.
How did they qualify?
They topped their Asian qualifying group and went the whole campaign unbeaten. Says it all about the quality of the Asian teams, doesn’t it?
Who will I recognise?
If you’re not familiar with Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League then I’m afraid you’re going to struggle but I’m here to help. Those of you who have watched Fulham over the past few years will recognise the name Ashkan Dejagah, he’s the captain of the national team and is currently without a club after being released by Wolfsburg’s second side in the summer. He spent two years at Craven Cottage and almost saved his team from relegation in 2014 but it was in vain as the West London side dropped down to the Championship. Another name, and I’m clutching at straws here, you might know is that of Reza Goochannejhad – the former Charlton striker was Iran’s only player to score in the last World Cup in Brazil (a consolation against the mighty Bosnia) and is the team’s main scoring threat.
Who should I look out for?
As with every promising young player from a small nation, Iran have their own ‘Iranian Messi’. He hails from Rubin Kazan and Manchester United fans might know who I’m talking about. Sardar Azmoun faced United in their thrilling Europa League campaign last season while playing for Rostov. He showed signs of class over the two legs but couldn’t make the impact he would’ve dreamed of. He’s the top scoring player who is currently in the squad with 22 goals for his country and usually leads the line. He’s only 22 and could burst onto the scene in Russia next summer.
Who’s in charge?
Certainly the most famous face in the Iranian squad photo is their manager, Carlos Queiroz, who used to be part of Manchester United’s backroom staff under Sir Alex Ferguson. The Portuguese coach has also spent time in charge of Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team during his eventful coaching career. He’s been in charge of Iran for 6 years and led them to the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014. His reign hasn’t been without controversy as a long-running feud with Choi-Kang Hee, the former manager of South Korea, climaxed in a fight between the two sides during a game in 2013. And who can blame him, the Korean coach criticised Iran’s facilities and swore that Queiroz’s team would cry ‘tears of blood’ before that game.
What’s their World Cup record like?
In brief, nothing special. They’ve never got past the group stage but came so close to holding Argentina to a goalless draw in Brazil. The Argentinian Messi popped up with a late scorcher to beat the mighty Iranians. They’ve claimed just one World Cup victory in their history and that came against the United States in 1998.
And finally, have they got any chance of winning the World Cup?
Personally, I can’t see it. Maybe it’s the poor World Cup record and the lack of quality players I guess.