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Iran are ranked 36th in the Fifa rankings, just two placed below Scotland and five below the Republic of Ireland and are playing in consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history. At Brazil 2014, Iran finished bottom in their group behind Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is the story of most of their four previous entries.

Having won just one World Cup game in their history, a 2-1 victory against the United States at France 1998, Iran have struggled on the biggest stage, which is no surprise given very few players play in top-flight leagues, let alone in Europe.

Iran set a World Cup qualifying record during their unbeaten campaign by keeping 12 consecutive clean sheets, a run which last over 18 hours of football.

At Brazil Iran tried to sit deep then hit teams on the break, but their lesser ability meant they could not compete with bigger teams, rendering qualification from their group unachievable. Four years on and Iran have much better attacking options available to them. Alireza Jahanbakhsh was the Eredivisie’s top goal scorer and Karim Ansarifard scored 17 goals for Olympiacos in the Greek league, meaning we are likely to see a bold and attacking style of play from Carlos Queiroz’s side.

Fixtures

Morocco vs Iran – 16:00, Friday 15 June.
Iran vs Spain – 19:00, Wednesday 20 June.
Iran vs Portugal – 19:00, Monday 25 June.

Key Players

Alireza Jahanbakhsh: Since signing a five-year deal with AZ in 2015, he has repaid the club which took a left-field punt on him. Alireza Jahanbakhsh became the first Asian player to be the top goal scorer in a major European League with his 21 goal return this season. The attacking midfielder has not quite been able to produce that kind of form for his country, but Iran will be very hopeful he can add to his four international goals.

alireza-jahanbakhsh
Jahanbakhsh enjoyed a good season for AZ (AFP)

Saeid Ezatolahi: Once on the books at Atletico Madrid where he spent a year in the Spanish capital as an 18-year-old, Saeid Ezatolahi is an important player in the centre of Iran’s midfielder, but will miss the first group game through suspension. He was sent off against South Korea in Iran’s penultimate qualifying match for bringing his boot onto the head of Kim Min-jae who had fallen to the ground. A FIFA disciplinary panel imposed a two-match ban, the first was against Syria in the final qualifying game and the next match is their World Cup opener against Morocco.

Saman Ghoddos: Arsenal fans may recognise Saman Ghoddos from their Europa League travels to Sweden when they faced Ostersunds. Ghoddos stood out in the first leg when the Swedish side opted for damage limitation, then he caused plenty of problems at the Emirates when where his side won 2-1 on the night. Ghoddos’ pace will be a great outlet for Iran, although his decision making in the final third needs to be more clinical if Iran want him to be a bigger threat.

One to watch

Mehdi Taremi: A fiery character, Mehdi Taremi has a special talent to create scoring chances for his teammates and himself, meaning he could be Iran’s secret weapon.  The 25-year-old forward has 11 goals in his 25 appearances for Iran and is highly rated by Iranian supporters.

How did they get here?

Iran’s qualifying process started in June 2015 and they topped their first Asia qualifying group ahead of Oman, Turkmenistan, Guam and India before qualifying after winning another league table, all without losing.

How will they do?

To qualify ahead of Portugal or Spain would represent an almighty achievement for Iran, and an even bigger disappointment to either Spain or Portugal. A second ever World Cup win against Morocco and a spirited performance against the two top teams in Group B will probably be enough for Iran’s supporters not to recognise this campaign as disappointing.

Odds on Iran winning the World Cup: 500/1

Squad

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo, Portugal);

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (Ostende, Belgium), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Alsaad, Qatar), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny, Russia), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal);

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm, Russia), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens, Greece), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds, Sweden), Mahdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Notthingham Forest, England), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiacos, Greece), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis);

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos, Greece), Mahdi Taremi (Al Gharafa, Qatar), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan, Russia), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen, Netherlands).

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