Once a nation that was mostly an afterthought in the global football landscape, Iran have transformed into one of the most consistent teams in Asia. The Melli team passed the qualifications for the third consecutive time. Now he enters a World Cup with largely the same team he missed the knockout stage with by just one point in 2018, in a group including Spain and Portugal, no less. .
But the story of Iran heading to Qatar mostly surrounds turmoil off the pitch. Amid ongoing protests in the country over the treatment of women, several former national team members have been arrested for speaking out. Current national team players have been continually silenced, leading to more symbolic acts like covering the team’s emblem during the national anthem before a tune-up match. A campaign has started in recent weeks to urge FIFA to disqualify Iran from the tournament due to the current political situation.
On the pitch, preparation for the World Cup has been disastrous. Manager Dragan Skokic was fired in July, then reinstated a few days later, then replaced by former manager Carlos Queiroz in September. Striker Sardar Azmoun, whose 10 goals and four assists in qualifying propelled the team to Qatar, suffered an injury playing for club Bayer Leverkusen. He will make the trip, even if his availability and effectiveness remain unclear.
Whether the presence and determination of the team’s veterans is enough to overcome all other noise will determine whether Iran can reach their first World Cup knockout stage.
Group B schedule (all times Eastern)
– England, November 21, 8 a.m.
– Wales, November 25, 5 a.m.
– United States, November 29, 2 p.m.
Carlos Queirozhired in September 2022
Players to watch
Mehdi Taremi, striker
The Porto man has reportedly attracted interest from Arsenal after registering double-digit goals and assists in each of the last two years in Portugal’s Primeira Liga. The 30-year-old is a smart player with plenty of big game experience. He made 15 Champions League appearances for Porto and scored two goals to win a domestic cup final. He didn’t produce much in 2018 but he may be in the best form of his career this time around.
Hossein Kanaanizadegan, centre-back
Queiroz didn’t select Kanaanizadegan in 2018 but now the 28-year-old is an integral part of Iran’s defence. He played more minutes than anyone else in qualifying. He is also the tallest player in the Iranian back line, which means he will play an important role in defending the box when his side are likely to face a lot of set pieces against superior opponents.
Alireza Beiranvand, goalkeeper
Beiranvand is now entering his second World Cup after a very solid performance in 2018 – he allowed just two goals in three matches (and saved a penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo). Another solid run in qualifying should secure his starting spot for the second straight tournament.
Candidate in small groups
Ali Gholizadeh, attacking midfielder
Gholizadeh, 26, is a key attacking member for Iran as one of the few safe starters without extensive national team experience. He played just nine times ahead of this year’s qualifiers, where he played mostly on the right wing and scored three goals in 14 appearances.
Playing for Belgian side Charleroi, Gholizadeh hasn’t had any regular starts this season but has played a lot on the bench when not in the starting XI. His ability to threaten on the ball, both playing forward passes and dribbling past defenders, will come in handy for Team Melli, whether in a reserve role for one of the two strikers or s he starts on the wing.
world cup history
– Sixth appearance
– Last appearance: 2018 (Group stage)
– Best appearance: Group stage in 1978, 1998, 2006, 2014 and 2018
Outlook and expectations
The pairings with England and the United States provide some interesting political subplots, to say the least. On the pitch, Iran enter Qatar with the lowest FIFA composite ranking in the group, but they won’t want to return home empty-handed once again. Will he finally reach the round of 16 on his sixth try?
The turmoil at home has certainly put some pressure on this side, and the token protest in the pre-World Cup friendly showed that this tournament could be a scene for protests. Combine that with the untimely change of direction, and it looks like tough circumstances for a team that shouldn’t come out of the group. Luckily for Iran, England, the United States and Wales have all had periods of poor form. Team Melli displayed their dominance in the Asian region during qualifying. If this group of experienced players can carry their form to neighboring Qatar, they are more than capable of finally reaching the knockout stages.
World Cup team
GUARDIANS: Amir Abedzadeh (Ponferradina), Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Hossein Hosseini (Esteghlal), Payam Niazmand (Sepahan)
DEFENDERS: Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (AEK Athens), Majid Hosseini (Kayserispor), Abolfazl Jalali (Esteghlal), Hossein Kanaanizadegan (Al-Ahli), Shojae Khalilzadeh (Al-Ahli), Milad Mohammadi (AEK Athens), Sadegh Moharrami (Dinamo Zagreb), Morteza Pouraliganji (Persepolis), Ramin Rezaeian (Sepahan)
MIDFIELDS: Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saeid Ezatolahi (Vejle), Saman Ghoddos (Brentford), Ali Gholizadeh (Charleroi), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Feyenoord), Ali Karimi (Kayserispor), Ahmad Nourollahi (Shabab Al-Ahli), Mehdi Torabi (Persepolis )
FORWARDERS: Karim Ansarifard (Omonia), Sardar Azmoun (Bayer Leverkusen), Mehdi Taremi (Porto)
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