29 Sep 2020 2:19 PM +00:00

World Cup 2018: Springboard for progress, Iran should be proud of campaign

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Think of Iran at the World Cup, and you think of 1998.

You think of the firecracker fixture against the United States in Lyon. You think of the awkward exchange between Thomas Dooley and Amadreza Abedzadeh, the strained platitudes between two very different captains. You think of Mehdi Mahdavikia, streaking away from a hapless defence to rifle in a winner that had the whole of Tehran shaking.

You don’t think of much else though.

Team Melli’s participation in 2006 was overshadowed by the politicking of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whilst results in 1978 and 2014 were far from ideal.

A first-round exit in Russia should add to that misery. Instead, however, the campaign is shot through with optimism and pride.

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As well it should be. Iran rampaged through Asian qualifying, going twelve games unbeaten to secure their place in Group B. Against Morocco, they had the ideal start, even if the quality was somewhat lacking in their play.

A last minute own goal from Aziz Bouhaddouz decided the result, but the real delight was the army of Persian supporters in the stands.

REUTERS/Jorge Silva

For once, the country’s female fans were able to watch their team in action. They might still be banned from attending games at home, but in Russia they took their rightful place to roar on a talented, tight-knit team.

A step in the right direction, moreover, was taken when women were allowed to watch the Spain game inside Tehran's Azadi Stadium, prohibited for the opener against Morocco.

Spain triumphed over Carlos Queiroz’s side in the second fixture, but the former World Champions were made to sweat.

REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Diego Costa, the eventual game-winner, was sidelined by a fantastic performance from Morteza Pouraliganji, only scoring with a lucky finish.

The same can be said against Portugal, as Mehdi Taremi came within inches of sending Iran through to the knockout rounds following yet another impressive defensive display.



Al-Sadd defender Pouraliganji wasn’t the only one to impress, though. Goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand didn’t put a foot wrong throughout - including saving a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty - with the Persepolis man sure to depart for a bigger league once the tournament concludes.

Saeid Ezatolahi, Vahid Amiri and Karim Ansarifard were equally impressive. Alireza Jahanbakhsh endured a difficult time, but his profile continues to rise after leading the scoring charts in the Eredivisie last year. Iran, far from the whipping boys that their record suggests, are a modern and competitive outfit.

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Carlos Queiroz deserves immense credit. The Portuguese enjoys a turbulent relationship with the Iranian FA, threatening to resign ahead of the showpiece.

"Team Melli were Asia’s seventh-ranked team when he took over in 2011, 54thin the world," wrote Andy Mitten in a piece for British GQ, "within three years they were the first."

With the Asian Cup looming next year, it's unlikely that he will continue. His legacy is untouchable regardless.

A springboard

The transformation has been stark. Team Melli fans can only hope that the authorities use the performance in Russia as a springboard, even if Queiroz departs.


The footballing infrastructure in Tehran is scarce at best, with legendary figures such as Mehdi Mahdavikia having to plough their personal fortunes into youth academies like Kia FC.

"No-one really pays attention to the youth teams," the former Hamburg start told Gol Bezan in a recent interview, "no-one is interested in investing in grassroots football."

REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Iran might not have qualified from the group stage, but it doesn’t mean their World Cup has been a failure.

Carlos Queiroz’s side demonstrated their potential in all three fixtures and despite the Russian campaign finishing, football in Persia may just begin to blossom.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 12 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.


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