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FIFA World Cup 2018 team profile: Iran look to break group stage curse

Iran have never progressed beyond the group stage in the FIFA World Cup and Carlos Quieroz’s men will be looking to improve their record.

football Updated: Jun 03, 2018 12:58 IST
Sayan Ghosh
Sayan Ghosh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
FIFA World Cup 2018,Iran national football team,Carlos Queiroz
Iran will face Morocco in their opening game of the FIFA World Cup 2018 on June 15. (AFP)

World Cup history: Qualified four times; best – group stage (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014)

Head coach: Carlos Queiroz

Qualifying route: Round 1 – bye; Round 2 – Group D winners; Round 3 – Group A winners

Squad (24-man preliminary): Goalkeepers - Alireza Beiranvand, Rashid Mazaheri, Amir Abedzadeh; Defenders - Ramin Rezaeian, Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh, Morteza Pouraliganj, Pejman Montazeri, Seyed Majid Hosseini, Milad Mohammadi, Roozbeh Cheshmi; Midfielders - Saeid Ezatolahi, Masoud Shojaei, Ahmad Abdolahzadeh, Saman Ghoddos, Mahdi Torabi, Ashkan Dejagah, Omid Ebrahimi, Ehsan Hajsafi, Ali Karimi, Soroush Rafiei, Ali Gholizadeh, Vahid Amiri; Forwards - Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Karim Ansarifard, Mahdi Taremi, Sardar Azmoun, Reza Ghoochannejhad.

Iran are possibly the strongest Asian side in the FIFA World Cup 2018, but their record in the competition has been quite disappointing over the years. They’ve never progressed beyond the group stage on the four occasions and Carlos Quieroz’s men will be looking to improve their record. (FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 FULL SCHEDULE)

The FIFA World Cup 2014 was a largely forgettable campaign for Iran as they were unable to win a single game and their best result was a draw against Nigeria. However, they were able to hold their own against the Argentine attack and it took a late goal from Lionel Messi to clinch the game.

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A strong defence remains Iran’s main strength and they repeatedly depended on the strong defensive players during the qualifiers. Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz is heavily reliant on these tough players and with Portugal and Spain in their group, their defensive prowess will surely be put to test.

When it comes to the attack, Sardar Azmoun - a 23-year-old known as the “Iranian Messi” - has 23 goals to his name and he will be in prime form after scoring 11 times during the qualifying campaign.

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His partner - Alireza Jahanbakhsh - is another of Iran’s star players and this season, he became the first Asian player to be top goalscorer in a mainstream European league when he got 21 league goals for Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. However, they will have to rely heavily on counter-attacking football against the more fancied sides and one successful conversion can prove to be the match-winner.

Three players to watch out for

Sardar Azmoun - The youngster will feel at home in Russia after playing in the country for Rubin Kazan and FC Rostov. The ‘Iranian Messi’ has a prolific goal-scoring record for the national team and his flamboyance on the field has sparked comparisons with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Sardar was instrumental in the qualifying campaign and he scored the goal which sealed Iran’s qualification for the World Cup.

Saeid Ezatolahic - The central midfielder is another Iranian footballer who plays in Russia (FC Rostov) and will benefit from the familiarity with the conditions. Ezatolahic is the creative force in the Iranian midfield and his time with Atletico Madrid will be help him in understanding the Spanish game plan.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh - The 24-year old is well known for his assisting talents and his style of play has earned comparisons to the Iran legend Mehdi Mahdavikia. With 21 goals and 14 assists, he was the star performer for AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch league this season and thanks to his impressive form, he became the first Asian player to be top goalscorer in a mainstream European league.

First Published: Jun 03, 2018 12:58 IST