An insight into the Iranian national team

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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.

 

 

 

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Edwin Encarnación : This month’s hottest hitter in Major League Baseball

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Dominican first baseman Edwin Encarnación has had an outstanding month, the 31 year old has hit 11 homers in 16 games, making him the first player since Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki  made multiple home runs in a month back in 2010.

Last Wednesday, Encarnación hit two home runs and did the same the night before against Boston. He is now the second Blue Jays player to hit multiple consecutive home runs in a month. Jesse Barfield who played for the Jays from 1981-1989 also did the same back in the 1983 season.

In the last 16 games he has definitely proved a lot of people wrong, once known for his inconsistency at the plate, he is currently one of the most reliable hitters in Major League Baseball.

Things are definitely going well for the Toronto Blue Jays, offensively they are strong with Encarnación’s current form and also with the likes José Bautista, Brett Lawrie, and Melky Cabrera playing well. What’s particularly interesting about the Ontario team is that they have not been one of these “everything has gone right teams” as CBS Sports recently put it, the stats shows that they are only 12-11 at the Rogers Centre.

It is fair to say they are well suited to win the division, as fellow teams in the American League East such as the Boston Red Sox are showing a dismal display having lost seven games on the trot, the Yankees showing rotational issues, Tampa Bay struggling to find form, and Baltimore’s pitching problems give the Canadian side a lot to smile about as they get closer to possibly becoming American League East title winners.

Having Encarnación in fine form and spraying his efforts predominately to the left of the ball park regardless of the style the pitcher has thrown has drastically helped the Jays this month. Offensively they are one team worth watching in Major League Baseball and strangely enough, look like they can fend off the Yankees to become American League East champions.

Masahiro Tanaka shines against the Cubs

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For my first ever post I thought I would start off with a sport related topic, I have always liked baseball, however, I have only recently started to get back into the MLB.

One signing that I kept on reading about was about Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The twenty-five year old right handed pitcher signed for the New York Yankees for approximately $155 million (about £92 million) on a seven year deal.

Tanaka left native club Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles   in December last year, the Golden Eagles had a spectacular season and won all twenty four games and won their first ever Japanese series.

The Japanese pitcher has had a great start in the famous Yankees jersey, last Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs  Tanaka allowed no runs and struck out ten,  (The Yankees won 3-0 on the day) the stats also revealed that so far he has had twenty eight strikeouts from twenty two innings, no other Yankees pitcher has ever achieved this in the first three games of the season.

The Chicago side really struggled against Tanaka, they only managed to get to second base on two occasions. Puerto Rican Carlos Beltrán scored a home run in the first inning (that’s now his fourth this year!) 

Three innings later the Yankees extended their lead, with all bases loaded Brian McCann able to slip past Cubs’ John Baker to make it 2-0.

An inning later the New Yorkers made it 3-0, Brett Gardner sprinted home to treble their lead.

It was great victory for the Yankees who also beat the Chicago team 2-0 in a double-headed game.

Tanaka might be adjusting to American culture and the language, however, one thing that ‘has not been lost in translation’ as ESPN put it, is his world class pitching ability. To be fair he has only played three games for the Yankees and obviously only time will tell if he will become a success story in Major League Baseball. Probably one of the most successful players to come from the Land of the Rising Sun has to be Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who previously won rookie of the year and got his 4,000 hit in August 2014.

Going back to Tanaka, his $155 million price tag and also the $20 million posting fee that was paid to Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles the Yankees are obviously expecting the twenty five year old to get more strike outs under his belt.