For Iran, things were a little bit more complicated. With qualification for this year’s finals starting in 2009, Iran found itself in the midst of a protest over the perceived illegitimacy of the recent Presidential election in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election. Four players wore green wristbands in protest of the elections and in support of Ahmadinejad’s opponent, Mir Houssein Mousavi. All four players were forced to retire from the national team after the protest. These players included team captain and 1998 World Cup hero Mehdi Mahdavikia who scored the goal to beat the United States in the group stage.
Despite the political turmoil, Iran was still able to qualify by winning their qualification group in Asia. They are a tough and resilient nation who, whether they have the personnel or not, compete with pride and refuse to go down without a fight. Will that be enough to see them make it out of a tough group this summer in Brazil? Let’s find out.
Of the four teams in Group F, Iran is expected to finish at the bottom. This will be their fourth World Cup Finals. During their previous three trips to the finals, their only win was a 2-1 win over the United States in 1998. With a FIFA World Ranking of 37, Iran is expected to finish near the bottom of the 32 teams at the tournament.
With Manager Carlos Queiroz at the helm, the Persian Stars hope to prove the doubters wrong by playing their trademark stingy defense. They finished atop Group A (ahead of South Korea) in the Asia Football Confederation by scoring eight goals in eight games and only conceding two. Expect Queiroz to employ the defensive-minded approach that he has made his trademark during his career managing the likes of South Africa, Sporting Lisbon and the illustrious New York/New Jersey Metrostars.
Led by their captain Javad Nekounan, expect Iran to look to spring the likes of Ashkan Dejagah, who scored in his debut with Iran in 2012, down the wing in the counter attack.
Dejagah, who excelled for Fulham during this year’s Premier League campaign, is really the only viable threat in the Iranian attack. With Fulham, Dejagah demonstrated his quickness in attack as well as his strength on the ball. That he has a canon for a right foot does not hurt as he scored some electric goals for Fulham. In this goal, watch the quickness with which he cuts inside and the power in his shot to beat Tim Howard at the near post.
He will be expected to link up with striker Reza Ghoochannejhad in the counter attack and provide the impetus to try and steal a win in one of their three group games against superior opponents. Perhaps Nigeria will lack the discipline to repel the counter attack and could find themselves down a goal to a team that essentially always plays with ten men behind the ball. Bosnia-Herzegovina should be organized well enough to maintain possession and avoid giving up goals on the counter. Expect Argentina to have their way with Iran and win by a large margin.
Let’s face it, Iran is not supposed to be able to earn a point in this group and for them to even draw one of their opponents would be considered a success outside of Iran. After all, in three previous World Cup finals, they have only managed the one positive result, the win over the tournament’s worst Americans in 1998. If history has any say in this matter, Iran will exit out of the Cup without as much as a whimper. However, if they manage to steal a point, or even three, from the likes of Bosnia-Herzegovina or Nigeria it could have a huge impact on who advances from Group F along with Argentina.
Written by Andrew Kearney