Iran’s Sardar Azmoun will be perhaps one of the lesser known quantities at this summer’s World Cup in Russia, although that is unlikely to remain the case for long.
Referred to by the press as the “Iranian Messi”, the youngster, himself, prefers to be compared to former Sweden icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic, thanks to a rare aerial prowess developed during a childhood playing both football and volleyball.
The 23-year-old forward, who plays his club football in the host country for Rubin Kazan, is so highly rated back home that supporters are expecting him to become Iran’s most successful player ever.
Touted as the successor to legendary Team Melli’s all-time top goalscorer, Ali Daei, Azmoun carries the hopes of a nation on his shoulders ahead of a tough group stage line-up, consisting of Morocco, Spain and Portugal.
To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.
Who is he?
Azmoun, who was born in Gonbad-e Kavus in Iran, joined Rubin Kazan from Sepahan in his homeland and was loaned to Rostov before joining them permanently in 2016.
Rostov activated a buy-out clause in Azmoun’s contract, and despite a legal challenge from with Rubin Kazan, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that he was Rostov’s player.
However, despite his fractious departure, he would return to Rubin Kazan in the summer of 2017. This season he has scored five goals in 26 Russian Premier League appearances for Volzháne.
What is his international experience/record?
Having been capped 33 times by his country, scoring 23 goals, Azmoun is now going some way towards justifying links with Ali Daei. Already, he finds himself among the top five of Iran’s all-time goalscorers.
Showing a knack for scoring crucial goals in big games, he recorded the only strike in the home win over South Korea last October that underlined Iran’s position as favourites to qualify for the World Cup finals.
While he has impressed at club level, some of his best form has been for his country, with a run of impressive goals during Carlos Queiroz’s side’s unbeaten qualifying run for the 2018 World Cup.
Why will he be a breakout World Cup star?
Azmoun has emerged as one of the most exciting forwards currently playing in Europe and, despite his youth, he has a great deal of experience, having played several seasons of Russian top flight football while appearing in both the Europa League and Champions League.
“He has all the qualities to succeed at the highest level,” Iran coach Queiroz told ESPN FC in 2015. “He is improving all the time. He has to keep his feet on the ground, work hard and make the right decisions. If so, he could be a real star of Iranian and Asian football for years to come.”
Just two years later and the 23-year-old has emerged as a key player for Iran and perhaps his nation’s key hope ahead of the summer competition in a nation all so familiar to him.
What is his future after the World Cup?
According to The Guardian, Azmoun has been linked with several Premier League clubs, Everton and Stoke City among them, having impressed for the Russian club since a controversial move from Rubin Kazan.
Bleacher Report continue to suggest that Azmoun’s most likely chance of him moving to England would be a switch to Leicester City, Everton or Wolverhampton Wanderers —with the latter seeming the most likely.
There is also a suggestion that Celtic could also emerge as serious competitors for the Iran star, which goes hand-in-hand with recent reports by The Scotsman.
The 23-year-old will be a key player for his country at the World Cup in Russia this summer and good showings against group rivals Portugal and Spain will undoubtedly increase his profile.
Currently yet to prove himself outside of the Russian Premier League, this summer could be Azmoun’s golden opportunity to test himself against the game’s elite on his biggest stage yet.
Perhaps being away from the focus of Europe’s top five leagues has helped to alleviate some of the pressure or sense of expectation that may otherwise have overwhelmed him.
To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.
John Hartson is right, as Celtic go backward to Ronny Deila level
Celtic are out of the Champions League following defeat to AEK Athens.
Celtic are out of the Champions League and it is certainly not a situation that has gone down well at Parkhead. Fans and pundits are not particularly livid at the manager Brendan Rodgers or the players, who undoubtedly gave it their all. But rather it is the Celtic board that is in the crosshairs.
The 2-1 defeat at AEK Athens last night has been seen coming for some time. Despite bringing in Odsonne Edouard in a club record deal this summer Celtic boss Rodgers has been calling for more investment for some time. With only Scott Bain tying up a permanent deal and Emilio Izaguirre returning, the transfer business at Celtic has been otherwise dire.
It was a subject touched upon by former Celtic player John Hartson. The Welshman, who played 201 times for the Bhoys scoring 109 goals, tweeted:
Scratching my head as to why the Celtic money men wouldn’t back a manager that has had so much success.. you have to keep moving forward.. in particular when you are so dominant financially!!
— John Hartson (@JohnHartson10) August 14, 2018
His point is valid. The hard work done by Celtic manager Rodgers to get them where they were at the start of the summer has now been undermined.
Sure, they are still dominating Scottish football, even if Steven Gerrard’s Rangers revival might have some itchy bums in seats.
But in terms of European football? Celtic are now no better off than they were when Ronny Deila got the boot in 2016.
It is hard to hear, but falling to a side like AEK is as comparable to Deila’s struggles against Legia Warsaw, Maribor or Malmo.
Celtic have gone backward from a position where it almost seemed impossible to do so. Hopefully, Rodgers sticks around for the fight.
One to watch: Celtic’s 19-year-old winger Daniel Arzani
Introducing The Boot Room’s 2018/19 One to Watch series…
Not many people saw Daniel Arzani menacing down the flanks of many an A-League pitch in the last 12 months.
Millions of people did, however, see the raw talent that the Australian possesses after three impressive cameos off the bench at this year’s World Cup – a tournament at which he was the youngest player.
And now he will head to Celtic on loan, playing in a league that will provide a sterner physical test while still allowing him to develop in the comfortable surroundings of a strong, attacking team.
An attribute that will be of vital importance in the fledgling stages of the 19-year-old’s career at Celtic is his ability to play on both wings.
At Melbourne City, he constantly changed flanks from game to game – and even during games.
On the right flank, he likes to use his speed to stretch the pitch and make runs to the by-line.
On the left, he enjoys using his incisive dribbling to move inside and head towards the penalty box.
He will be hoping to improve on his production though.
While impressive in the league, his record of two goals and one assist in 1,195 minutes is not particularly stellar.
In saying that, he has shown more than a few glimpses of the underlying raw talent needed to succeed at a higher level.
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold glowingly endorsed the move, telling reporters this week, “It’s a big move for the kid. He’s a very intelligent kid. He knows what his plan is”.
With the international retirement of Tim Cahill, many in Arzani’s native Australia are looking towards the 19-year-old to be the face of the next generation.
Weirdly, he will try to grow into that role out of the national spotlight in the confines of Glasgow, Celtic Park and the Champions League.
One to Watch: Celtic’s Kieran Tierney unstoppable down the flank in AEK draw
One to Watch pick Kieran Tierney impressed despite stalemate against AEK.
Celtic’s quest for Champions League football hit a hurdle as they draw 1-1 with AEK Athens at Celtic Park in the first leg of their qualifying tie.
Kieran Tierney, however, can feel absolved of much of the blame.
After being rested on the weekend in anticipation of this game, he looked fresh.
The Scottish full-back was unstoppable on the left-flank, as he constantly put pressure on an AEK defensively line trying to be compact as possible.
He did not allow them to be. He constantly bombarded down the wing, looking to stretch the defence, and he was consistently afforded the room to get into dangerous positions.
In the first half, he almost won a penalty with a direct run towards goal that the referee judged to be just outside the box
The Celtic defender was also instrumental in the build-up to the Hoops’ goal.
His foray into the box led to a deflected pass to Callum McGregor, who made no mistake smashing home to put Celtic ahead.
He also put in multiple dangerous crosses that slid through the penalty area without a Celtic player managing to get on the end of one.
In the second-half, Tierney moved to press forward even higher up the pitch after AEK were reduced to ten men early in the half.
With Celtic struggling to break the deadlock, they switched to a back three, moving the 21-year-old into a more defensive role.
But he continued to make forays forward as the Hoops camped themselves in the Greek side’s half for the final 20 minutes.
While Celtic were denied a first-leg advantage, Tierney will take great confidence into the second-leg after an all-round excellent performance.
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