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Iran's FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 campaign perhaps best be summed up by the phrase "so near and yet so far." Four years later, Team Melli is attempting to recreate the recipe that brought them so close to creating history.
Iran won four points in Russia from a group that was previously thought to be insurmountable and included the 2010 world champions Spain and a Portugal that was propelled by Cristiano Ronaldo.
The only two goals conceded by Carlos Queiroz's team in their three games were a fortunate deflection off Diego Costa and a signature outside-of-the-boot shot from long range by Ricardo Quaresma.
Nevertheless, despite Iran's third-place finish, Queiroz was unable to make history for his team despite a 1-0 opening victory over Morocco and a point earned against his own Portugal.
With only two months till the start of the match in Doha, Queiroz is returning to finish what needs to be accomplished in Iran and is aiming for a historic first round-of-16 qualification after five failed tries. The fact that Iran has been placed in Group B for the second time in a row, is competing in the FIFA World Cup with the same manager for the third time in a row, and will play the United States in a rematch will all add to the déjà vu feeling for those who can remember the teams' initial meeting in France 1998.
Clevpicks.com will introduce you the Iran national football team...
Iran’s Group B Fixtures
England vs Iran (16:00 local time, Khalifa International Stadium)
Wales vs Iran (13:00 local time, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium)
Iran vs USA (22:00 local time, Al Thumama Stadium)
Queiroz’s approach and tactics
After a seven-year initial stint, the seasoned Portuguese tactician rejoins Team Melli. His playing style during that time can be described in one word: "firm."
Iran under Queiroz maintained an impressive total of ten clean sheets and allowed just ten goals during regular time in 16 games across four major international tournaments. Six of those goals came in unexpected defeats to Bosnia and Herzegovina (1-3) at the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 and Japan (0-3) at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
During this stretch, Queiroz frequently set up his team in a formation that alternated between a 4-3-3 and a 4-5-1, with two players frequently forming a double-pivot in front of a flat backline and width provided by the two wingers, likely Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Mehdi Taremi.
Key Player: Sardar Azmoun
With 15 minutes remaining in an AFC Asian Cup group stage match against Bahrain in Australia seven years ago, Queiroz substituted Azmoun for Reza Goochannejhad. Azmoun started the following match and beat Qatar with a beautiful on-the-turn control to score one of the tournament's goals. Azmoun never looked back after that.
Since then, the current Bayer Leverkusen forward has started all but two of Iran's 12 major tournament games, totaling at least 80 minutes in each of them. Azmoun did not score at the FIFA World Cup in Russia 2018, but the nation's best active scorer will have a good chance to do so in Qatar.
One to Watch: Ali Gholizadeh
While the attacking trio of Azmoun, Taremi, and Jahanbakhsh are guaranteed to start on November 21, Hull City winger Allahyar Sayyadmanesh provided competition up front. Sadly, a mid-August injury may keep the young player out until after the World Cup.
Gholizadeh, who is five years older than Sayyadmanesh but still likely one of the more youthful members of Queiroz's experienced side, has entered the scene. Gholizadeh has been a crucial player for Belgian team Charleroi since signing from Saipa in his home country of Iran back in 2018. Capable of playing throughout the front three or behind the striker, Gholizadeh has made over 120 appearances for the club.
Iran's World Cup history
Iran will compete in its third straight FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022, marking their sixth World Cup overall and first continuous appearance streak.
After making their debut in Argentina in 1978, Team Melli had to wait 20 years to accomplish the same feat again. In France in 1998, they won the competition for the first time ever with a famous 2-1 victory over the United States.
Since then, they have competed in Germany (2006), Brazil (2014), and Russia (2018), but—at least thus far—they have only triumphed over Morocco in 2014. Now, Queiroz and his team have great aspirations of increasing that total in Qatar.
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