The 2014 World Cup commences in just two days time, hosts Brazil face Croatia at the Arena Corinthians stadium in São Paulo, whilst the media will be focusing on the likes of Neymar et al., I thought I would look into one of the tournament’s lesser known teams, Iran.
The Islamic Republic of Iran which has a population of 77,176,930 inhabitants and borders Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan are currently ranked Asia’s top side. Football is definitely one of the country’s most popular sports and the beautiful game was introduced to the Persian nation back in 1898 by British expats.
By 1907 the Iranian the British Ambassador at the time Cecil Spring-Rice founded the country’s first football tournament in Tehran which only had three teams (British Embassy of Great Britain, Indo-European Telegraph community, and the Imperial Bank of Persia).
The Tehran Football Association Club was formed in the same year, the aim of the organising body was to organise matches in the city, all teams that participated were made up of only British residents. Sometimes Iranian spectators would be used if a participating team were short of players.
The British influence definitely helped nurture the Iranian game and by 1941 the national team played their first ever game against Afghanistan and drew 0-0 in Kabul. Nine years later The Iranian Lions played their first ever FIFA international match against Turkey and lost 6-1 in Istanbul.
The national team throughout years have drastically improved since then and have featured in three previous World Cups (Argentina ’78, France ’98, Germany 2006). Brazil now being their fourth World Cup tournament, this time coached by former Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz, Iran are currently ranked 34th in the FIFA World Rankings.
There was a lot of celebrating in Iran last June when the national team beat South Korea to qualify for the tournament; there were also celebrations in Tehran for political reasons as three days later Hassan Rouhani had been elected.
Iranian fans have been concerned about the lack preparation the team has had, since qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil “Team Melli” (as they are also commonly known as) have only played four 2015 Asia Cup qualifying games (Thailand twice, Lebanon, and Kuwait). Last Sunday they played Trinidad and Tobago in a warm up game in São Paulo and beat the Soca Warriors 2-0. Sepahan Isfahan FC ‘s Ehsan Hajsafi put The Iranian Lions just before half time.
Reza Ghoochannejhad (pictured above) who plays his trade at Championship side Charlton Athletic and once played for Dutch national youth teams before changing allegiances in 2012 doubled Iran’s lead from close range.
‘Gucci’ as he is known by his Charlton team mates is the most likely player to get on the Iranian score sheet. The twenty six year old striker scored nine times in first eleven matches in a Team Melli shirt. He has definitely been the most consistent player in the team and Iran will be heavily relying on his well known goalscoring ability.
At the back they lack consistency and have had an issue with choosing a first choice goalkeeper. Queiroz for sometime has been unhappy with long serving keeper Mehdi Rahmati who has played over seventy games for his country. Many are suggesting that German born Daniel Davari who plays for Grasshopper Zürich will take part in Iran’s Group F matches.
Iran face Nigeria in Curitiba on Monday 16th June, it looks like Queiroz will adopt a more of a defensive approach going into their first game with a 4-2-3-1 formation. This allows the likes of Reza Ghoochannejhad and Ashkan Dejagah to go on the counter attack whilst at the same time gives them the option to defend in large numbers. In contrast, their West African opponents are known for playing a more of attacking formation since Super Eagles boss Stephen Keshi has been in charge and will most likely opt for a 4-3-3 formation. The Iranian Lions will definitely be kept busy with Super Eagles trio Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike, and Ahmed Musa (if he starts, he recently picked up a thigh strain). The Iranians also face Argentina and Bosnia & Herzegovina in their group and it is obviously fair to say that this group is not going to be a walk in a park for Asia’s no.1 ranked side. Although Iran will not be playing the most attractive football, they will definitely take advantage of any mistakes their opponents make when going forward; their stiff back line could be their saviour in the tournament.