2014 World Cup Group F team previews: Iran
Iran head to Brazil as Asia’s top-ranked nation but their hopes of reaching the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time have been hampered by a lack of top class friendly opposition and a wave of negativity surrounding the team.
Since booking their spot in the finals by winning their Asian qualifying group last June, Iran, ranked No 1 in Asia and 37th in the world by Fifa, have only played one international friendly match against Guinea in Tehran, which they lost 2-1.
By contrast, Asian champions Japan have faced World Cup finalists Uruguay, Netherlands, Belgium and Ghana in friendlies, aiming to give their squad an experience of the task they will face In Brazil.
Iran’s Portuguese boss Carlos Queiroz bemoaned the situation, believed to be down to politics and finances, after the loss to Guinea, which drew withering criticism from a local media fed up with the sluggish performances of an ageing team.
“We try our best, we have limited resources, we have some issues in our preparations but the federation make a lot of efforts to give the best to the players and the team,” Queiroz said at the Asian Cup draw in March.
“In the last three years despite all the difficulties, Iran has showed the No 1 most important thing in the football world – passion.
“If you have passion for the game, that is always a good starting point. with the passion of the players and the fans, we were able to qualify for the World Cup.”
The former Real Madrid and Portugal manager, who is expected to step down after the World Cup, tapped his contacts to help fix a training camp and warm-up matches in South Africa, whom he used to coach, and his homeland of Mozambique last month, and the team will continue preparations in Austria in May.
There they will face Belarus, Montenegro and Angola before taking on Trinidad and Tobago in Sao Paulo eight days before their Group F opener against Nigeria in Curitiba on June 16.
Queiroz will hope the games can provide him with a chance to find a solution to their struggle for goals, which has led to him scouring the Iranian diaspora to help boost his defence-oriented side.
Team Melli managed only three goals in the first five games of their final Asian qualifying group before striker Reza “Gucci” Ghoochannejhad, who was born in Tehran but emigrated to Netherlands as a child, was found and fired the team to a fourth World Cup.
Although grouped with one of the tournament favourites Argentina, hopes were raised that they could advance to the last 16 for the first time after they were also drawn against Bosnia and Nigeria in an expected three-way battle for second place.
The task of adding to their sole World Cup finals victory over political foes the United States in 1998 looks beyond them.
“[We must] take this World Cup as a learning process, and that doesn’t mean that we go there for tourism. We go to Brazil to create a legacy and the legacy is to put the team in a good position to be stronger after the World Cup but better prepared and more experienced,” Queiroz said.
“No doubt since I arrived, there is great progress in the players, great progress in the team. There is a great potential in Iran, it is just a matter of putting things in the right place.
“Three years ago Iran was fourth or fifth in Asia and today is the No 1 country.”
Expect a cagey, counter-attacking approach in a brief Brazil appearance.
Five to watch:
Jalal Hosseini, defender (Persepolis); age 32; 84 caps. The rock at the heart of the Iranian backline that booked a fourth World Cup appearance based on a miserly defence. Also an attacking threat from set pieces, he scored the opener in the Asian Cup qualifying win over Thailand in October and needs to be closely marshalled.
Javad Nekounam, midfielder (Al Kuwait); age 33; 139 caps. Captain and deep-lying playmaker, Nekounam will take part in his second World Cup after appearing in Germany in 2006. The set piece specialist became the first Iranian to play in the Spanish top flight when he joined Osasuna after the 2006 finals.
Andranik Teymourian, midfielder (Esteghlal); age 31; 76 caps. Powerful defensive midfielder, who has long been a mainstay of the team having appeared at the 2006 World Cup and also at the 2007 and 2011 Asian Cups. Played for Fulham, Barnsley and Bolton Wanderers in England before returning to Iran to play his club football. Nekounam’s midfield sidekick.
Ashkan Dejagah, midfielder (Fulham); age 28; 11 caps. Born in Tehran but moved to Germany at an early age, he played for the Europeans at youth level. Was called up by Queiroz for the World Cup qualifier against Qatar in February 2012 and scored twice on debut. A tricky winger who can also play through the middle, Dejagah joined English side Fulham in August 2012 following in Teymourian’s footsteps.
Reza Ghoochannejhad, striker (Charlton Athletic); age 26; 11 caps. Born in Iran but emigrated to Netherlands as a child, Queiroz convinced Ghoochannejhad to represent Team Melli after the striker had played for the Dutch youth teams. Made a blistering start to international football, scoring nine goals in his first 11 appearances, including the crucial winner in their final qualifier against South Korea.
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Published: May 27, 2014 04:00 AM