International Friendly: Turkey vs Iran – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Heading towards their World Cup opener, Team Melli take on Turkey in a warm-up fixture this Monday.
19:15 BST, Monday 28th May, Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium (Istanbul, Turkey)
Iran’s friendly match against Turkey is the first of a double header of friendly fixtures for the team who were second to qualify for the World Cup after Brazil (Russia, of course, qualifying automatically).
Despite their manager Carlos Queiroz announcing that he will step down after the competition ends, Team Melli are at a high point in their recent history, comfortably topping their group in the AFC qualifying stages.
Although their group contained South Korea, fans of Iran will be aware that the AFC is somewhat lacking in competition at least toward the top end. As a result, this fixture against Turkey will be a good litmus test for exactly where the Iranian side are in the pecking order.
Turkey, however, may not pose them the stiffest of tests. Coming fourth in Group I – a group that contained Iceland, Croatia and Ukraine – the Turkish Men’s national team has declined over the course of the last two decades or so.
With a number of talented youngsters coming through the ranks – Cengiz Under and Caglar Soyuncu, to name a couple – the hope will be that the side can return to the levels that they hit in the late 90s and early 2000s.
After playing Iran, Turkey have a couple more friendlies to look forward to: the first against Tunisia, the second against Russia.
Mircea Lucescu only has Abdulkadir Omur unavailable from his squad. Expect him to play a fairly strong lineup although replete with youngsters in a bid to look to develop the team for the future.
With Carlos Queiroz announcing a reduced 25-man squad for this set of international friendlies, it is hard to say how he will proceed.
The Portuguese manager is something of a tinkerer and so don’t expect him to go for the most obvious options. Do expect him to adopt a 4-3-3 formation though.
Key Battle: Cengiz Under (Turkey) vs Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Iran)
Two of the most exciting youngsters in European football could come head to head in this match.
Cengiz Under, a 20 year old playing for Roma in Serie A, has impressed in his debut season: a season which saw him playing 25 times and scoring seven times.
Signed for just under £12 million on his 20th birthday, Under made a name for himself in the Turkish Super Lig, making his full debut for the national side when he was still in his teens.
Jahanbakhsh has had a similar meteoric rise, becoming a regular in the AZ Alkmaar side in the last few seasons after signing in 2015.
Although he was not unimpressive in the first couple of campaigns, the most recent campaign was a break-out season for the young Iranian who became the first Asian to win the golden boot competition of a top European league.
His performances were enough to carry his side to the final of the KNVB Cup in the last two seasons where AZ lost to Vitesse both times.
If Jahanbakhsh has a good tournament, expect to see him gracing the football pitches of one of the big five European leagues before too long.
To go old or young?
Carlos Queiroz has the managing of a squad that contains old heads and young pretenders. The question is: who will he rely on?
Controversially, the Portuguese manager left out 36-year-old Jalal Hosseini but has included 34-year-old Pejman Montazeri and an almost-certainly-kneeless and 31-year-old Ashkan Dejagah.
Elsewhere, there is youthful talent in Ali Gholizadeh, weighing in at 22 years old, Sardar Azmoun who is 23 and Majid Hosseini who is one of the babies of the team at 21 years old.
No doubt Queiroz will go for a blend of maturity and vim but, at this point, it’s impossible to second guess which way it will go.
A new era for Turkey?
Mircea Lucescu has been tasked with preparing Turkey for a new generation of footballers.
Looking at the players available to him, there is an exciting crop of youngsters coming through – players like Freiburg’s Caglar Soyuncu who is making waves for himself in the Bundesliga and turning a few heads in the Premier League whilst doing so.
At this point, though, Turkish football does not have enough players operating in the big five leagues in Europe. In fact, only six players from the 27-man squad for this fixture are playing in the big five: Cenk Tosun in the Premier League, Cengiz Under in Serie A and four other players featuring in the Bundesliga.
Unless they can integrate more players into the big league, then Turkey could find themselves hamstrung going forward.
Prediction: Turkey 1-2 Iran
Although Turkey might be considered de facto favourites here, under Queiroz, Iran are a good side and should come through in the end.
With both Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh up front, they should cause problems to the Turkish backline. Expect there to be goals both ways but Iran to come out on top.