Iran Aims to Advance to Knockout Stage of 2018 World Cup

Iran Aims to Advance to Knockout Stage of 2018 World CupIran Aims to Advance to Knockout Stage of 2018 World Cup

The stability and pragmatism of Carlos Queiroz’s seven-year reign has firmly established Iran as Asia’s number one team, but the nation will go to the World Cup hoping to advance for the first time to the knockout phase.

Queiroz’s side faces a daunting task after being drawn to take on Morocco, Spain and Portugal. However, Team Melli represents the Asian Football Confederation’s best hope of a successful 2018 finals, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

Iran will be appearing at the World Cup for a fifth time and on each of the four previous visits - in 1978, 1998, 2006 and 2014 – it was unable to advance beyond the group phase.

But the Portuguese coach, who took charge in April 2011, has long targeted a run that would see the country progress for the first time and has worked hard to encourage the authorities in Iran to give him the tools required to achieve that goal.

Queiroz’s main concern has been the disparity in the fitness between those in his squad playing in Iran and those featuring overseas, with the country’s foreign-based players key to hopes of success.

Principal among the weapons at Queiroz’s disposal is Rubin Kazan striker Sardar Azmoun, a forward in the mould of Iranian great Ali Daei whose goals were instrumental in Iran becoming the first Asian nation to qualify for the finals.

With 23 goals in 31 games for Iran to date, Azmoun is on track to match Daei’s scoring record, which helped the country to qualify for the 1998 and 2006 World Cup finals.

Azmoun is backed up by the pace and trickery of Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who goes to Russia off the back of an impressive season for AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie, while Qatar-based striker Mehdi Taremi adds another dimension to the attack.

 Conceding Just Two Goals

Iran qualified for the World Cup having conceded only twice in the final phase and both of those goals came against Syria after their spot in the finals had already been secured.

That 2-2 draw at the Azadi Stadium marked the first time Queiroz’s team had allowed the opposition to score in a competitive game since a 3-1 win over Turkmenistan in November 2015, a run stretching back 13 matches and almost 22 months.

Iran will need players such as central defensive pairing Seyyed Jalal Hosseini and Morteza Pouralighanji - with the assistance of highly-rated defensive midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi - to be at the top of its game.

Ezatolahi has picked up the mantle of predecessors such as Karim Baqeri and Javad Nekounam as the man who makes Iran tick from central midfield. The 21-year-old’s performances in front of the defense have been instrumental in the country’s impressive form over the last three years.

But as the initial setup of the players came out, Hosseini was sidelined in the stand-by list along with keeper Hossein Hosseini who has the record of all-time clean sheets among the goalkeepers of Iran for 872 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal.

Iran was the third team to book a place at the 2018 World Cup after host country Russia and Brazil.

Drawn in a challenging group with Morocco, Spain and Portugal, the Iranians will be looking to pick up a win in their opener against the Moroccans to ensure their quest for a first-ever place in the round of 16 stays alive until their final game, against the Portuguese.

Well-drilled and growing in experience, Iran could spring a surprise against either Spain or Portugal if it gains a morale-boosting victory over Morocco.



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