Perhaps the worst prepared team heading to Brazil (manager Carlos Queiroz certainly thinks so), Iran have not had the smoothest time. Conflicts between the top clubs and the Iranian FA have meant that some of the squad have missed out on a pre-World Cup training camp while Queiroz himself has been angered by the lack of professionalism from the FA.
However, they have made it to Brazil so let’s see how they line up:
Qualification for Iran began in the second round of qualifiers with a two legged tie against the lowly Maldives. The Iranians comfortably swept past the minnows 5-0 on aggregate to head into the third round where they faced a group containing Bahrain, Qatar and Indonesia. They topped the group undefeated but drew three of those games including their home tie with Qatar. Still, they progressed through top of their group and were drawn in Group 1 of the fourth round alongside South Korea, Qatar (again), Uzbekistan and Lebanon. They finished top of the group and had two very impressive wins over South Korea but did lose very disappointingly in Lebanon and at home to Uzbekistan. Despite that, they qualified for the World Cup a whole year before the tournament itself.
The most notable absentee from the 28 man provisional squad named by Carlos Queiroz is the veteran striker Ali Karimi. The 127 cap striker was overlooked by Queiroz who instead opted to name uncapped Rubin Kazan striker Sardar Azmoun in the squad. Azmoun is the only uncapped player in the squad which is mostly Iran based players. Notable names include Fulham winger Ashkan Dejagah, Charlton striker (and general nightmare) Reza Ghoochannejhad, former Bolton man Andranik Teymourian and former Osasuna man Javad Nekounam. Here is the full squad:
Goalkeepers – Rahman Ahmadi (Sepahan); Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig); Alireza Haghighi (Sporting Covilha); Sousha Makani (Foolad Khuzestan)
Defenders – Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft); Hashem Beikzadeh (Esteghlal); Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps); Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan); Khosro Heidari (Esteghlal); Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis); Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Zob Ahan); Hossein Mahini (Persepolis); Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal); Mehrdad Pooladi (Persepolis); Amir Sadeghi (Esteghlal)
Midfielders – Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham); Ghasem Hadadifar (Zob Ahan); Reza Haghighi (Persepolis); Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC Nijmegen); Javad Nekounam (Al-Kuwait); Bakhtiyar Rahmani (Foolad Khuzestan); Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal)
Strikers – Karim Ansarifard (Tractor Sazi); Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan); Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton Athletic); Mohammad Reza Khalatbari (Persepolis); Mehdi Sharifi (Sepahan); Masoud Shojaei (Las Palmas)
Despite being born in Iran, Dejagah spent the majority of his life in Germany and was a German youth international before making his Iran debut in 2011. The Fulham man impressed in the tail end of the Premier League season, scoring a few key goals that were not enough to save the club from relegation. Despite only playing 11 times for Iran, he has become a key man on the right with his quality in that area giving Iran something new and different in attack. Dejagah will have to come up big for Iran if they are to have any chance of success in the tournament.
The Charlton striker (known as Gucci) has a very similar story to Dejagah. Having left Iran at a young age, Ghoochannejhad played for the Netherlands youth sides up until under 19 level before switching his allegiance to Iran in 2012. He was an immediate success for Queiroz and his 9 goals in just 11 caps is an incredible return. Three of those goals came in qualifying including the winner against South Korea in their final fourth round group game to finish top of their group. Gucci’s goal scoring instincts will have to be red hot in Brazil for Iran to pose any kind of threat in the World Cup.
The captain and talisman of Iran, Nekounam is entering his twilight years as a footballer. That is not to discount him as anything but a quality operator for Iran. The former Osasuna man was Iran’s top scorer in qualifying with six goals with only Shinji Okazaki, Younis Mahmoud, Ahmad Hayel, Le Cong Vinh and Hassan Abdel-Fattah scoring more. Nekounam is a driving force in midfield and the key creative player in the Iran side. He will have to be at his very best to inspire his teammates to glory in Brazil.
Possible Starting XI
Carlos Queiroz has a number of options in his squad but this is the eleven that he will possibly go with. Ghoochannejhad’s incredible scoring record at international level will give him the start up front but he will need to be ably supported and given service by Dejagah on the right and stalwart Masoud Shojaei on the left. Playmake Mohammad Reza Khalatbari will be looked at to create as well and he will be backed up by the deeper partnership of Andranik Teymourian and captain Nekounam who will look to drive the team forward. Ehsan Hajsafi is the undisputed left back while the experienced Khosro Heydari protects the right flank with the tough duo of Jalal Hosseini and Pejman Montazeri trying to stop forwards like Higuain, Messi and Dzeko. Rahman Ahmadi will continue as number one as he did in qualifying.
Iran have got three tough games to play in Brazil and it is difficult to see where they will pick up any points. Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Nigeria are all extremely good sides and it looks as though Iran will struggle in Group F. I think that Iran will finish bottom of Group F with no points and no goals.