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FIFA U-17 World Cup: High-flying Iran show possession is just a number

After achieving their best ever result in FIFA U-17 World Cup history, Iran will be eyeing a semifinal spot as they take on football powerhouse Spain in the last eight stage in Kochi on Sunday.

fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 20, 2017 17:22 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Kochi
FIFA U-17 World Cup,FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017,football
Iran have impressed one and all in the FIFA U-17 World Cup.(PTI)

Placed alongside Germany, Guinea and Costa Rica in a tough Group C, not many expected Iran to cruise past the first stage of the ongoing FIFA U-17 World Cup.

But that is exactly what the Asian side has done before edging out Mexico in the Round of 16 to set up a quarterfinal clash against European champions Spain.

This is the farthest Iran have reached in the history of the tournament and a win over Spain at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Sunday will see them book a semifinal berth against Ghana or Mali.

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A striking aspect of Iran’s success in India in the last couple of weeks is the manner in which the Abbas Chamanian-coached side has dominated games despite trailing opponents when it comes to keeping possession of the ball.

An average possession of 41.5 percent in four games perhaps doesn’t illustrate Iran’s domination in this campaign. But that is all they have managed in their games against Guinea, Germany, Costa Rica and Mexico.

Despite their low share of possession, Iran have been ruthless going forward. They have racked up a total of 89 attempts on goal, including 31 on target, in these four games.

While they have had a lesser share of possession than their opponents in all four games, they have had higher attempts on goal in each of these four encounters.

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Against Guinea, Iran’s share of possession was 40 percent, while they had 23 total attempts on goal, six of them on target. They won the game 3-1.

In their shock 4-0 win over Germany, Iran had 25 shots, including 12 on target, with 43 percent of possession.

Against Costa Rica, Iran shot 23 times, out of which five were on target, with 48 percent of the ball. They allowed the opposition just five attempts on goal during the game.

In the 2-1 win over Mexico, Iran managed just 35 percent of possession, and while they allowed 17 shots from the opposition, with five on target, they themselves had 18 attempts, eight of them on target.

“Although spending so much time behind the ball definitely saps your energy, we give our all for the team’s success and winning the match means we’ve achieved our goal,” midfielder Mohammad Sharifi told when asked about his team’s strategy.

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It is a trait that is likely to come in handy when they take on Spain this Sunday.

Having scored 12 goals and conceded just two in their four games, Iran have been helped in their cause by some organised defending.

“Our first objective is to keep a clean sheet. Second is to score a goal, and third is to defend our advantage and win the match,” defender Taha Shariati aptly summed up his team’s strategy to

Strikers Allahyar Sayyad and Younes Delfi have contributed five of Iran’s 12 goals, but what has been key to Iran’s success is their patience off the ball and their quickness on it in counter-attacks.

Against Germany, Iran allowed their opponents time on the ball, but afforded them very little space. Christian Wuck, the German coach, later attributed the loss to Iran’s ability to win tackles.

READ | Post FIFA U-17 World Cup, India must focus on qualifying for Asian event in next age group

Against Spain, the Iranian backline will be keen to impose its physical presence on the skilful duo of Sergio Gomez and Ferran Torres, who have been very effective on the flanks in this tournament.

Targeting Gomez and Torres will be key to stopping the supply line to forwards Abel Ruiz and Cesar Gelabert. It, however, remains to be seen whether Spain coach Santiago Denia drops one of his forwards in favour of a midfielder to try and counter Iran’s aggression at the centre of the park.

First Published: Oct 20, 2017 17:19 IST