Iran hopes to overachieve at World Cup

Javad Nekounam in action for Iran. (Amin M. Jamali/Getty)

Iran has become some-regular competitors at the World Cup recently—their appearance in Brazil this summer will be their third in five tournaments. Just don’t expect them to do anything. Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz has done very well to get Iran to the World Cup with a mostly domestic based roster. But don’t be fooled by the ease with which they navigated the Asian qualifiers. The competition will be considerably stiffer in Brazil.


Goalkeepers: Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig), Rahman Ahmadi (Sepahan Isfahan), Alireza Haqiqi (Sporting da Covilha)
Defenders: Hossein Mahini (Persepolis), Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis), Amir Hossein Sadeqi (Esteghlal), Hashem Beykzadeh (Esteghlal), Mehrdad Pouladi (Persepolis), Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft Tehran), Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal SC), Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Midfielders: Reza Haghighi (Persepolis), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), Ghasem Hadadifar (Zob Ahan Isfahan), Bakhtiar Rahmani (Foolad), Javad Nekounam (Kuwait SC), Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan Isfahan)
Forwards: Khosrow Heidari (Esteghlal), Karim Ansarifard (Tractor Sazi), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton Athletic), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC), Masoud Shojaei (UD Las Palmas), Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham)


A former assistant of Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Carlos Queiroz hasn’t enjoyed great success at international in previous coaching stints with Portugal, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. This will be his third World Cup appearance as a coach.

Possible formation

4-4-1-1: (GK) Davari – (D) Sadeqi, Montazeri, Hosseini, Beitashour – (M) Shojaei, Nekounam, Teymourian, Dejagah – (F) Jahanbakhsh, Ghoochannejhad

Group F schedule

June 16: vs. Nigeria in Curitiba
June 22: vs. Argentina in Belo Horizonte
June 25: vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina in Salvador

How they qualified

Iran cruised through the Asian qualifiers, going undefeated in six games during the semifinal group stage to finish ahead of Qatar. Impressively, they topped their group in the final round ahead of South Korea by winning five of eight games, with two losses. How consistent were they in the last round? Consider that Iran won four of its five matches by the same score line (1-0) and only conceded twice.

Team strengths

Confidence is running high after a very successful qualifying campaign. Pejman Montazeri and Jalal Hosseini form a strong central defensive duo. Team unity is another trait— Queiroz has extracted every ounce of ability and quality from an Iranian team that is greater than the total sum of his parts.

Team weaknesses

Offence. Iran scored only eight times in the final round of qualifying, underlining the team’s toothless attack. None of Iran’s forwards pose serious scoring threats, and none of them are genuine game-breakers. Iran looks to contain and counter, which means if they concede that they’ll have to open up, leaving themselves exposed at the back.

Players to watch

Javad Nekounam: A stylish central midfielder who combines expert passing ability with a sharp on-field awareness. Scored six goals in the qualifiers.
Ashkan Dejagah: The crafty Fulham winger is Iran’s best player—quick with the ball at his feet and tough to contain when he’s in the final third of the pitch.
Reza Ghoochannejhad: A natural goal-poacher in the Pippo Inzaghi mould who is also a clinical finisher.

Burning question?

Who will start in goal? Mehdi Rahmati’s public falling out with Queiroz leaves Iran without an established No. 1 goalkeeper. Rahman Ahmadi is one of the top ‘keepers in Iran’s first division but he lacks international experience, while Daniel Davari, who plays in Germany, is error-prone.

Prospects in Brazil

Iran, like most Asian nations, has neither the quality nor the depth of talent to compete against the top teams from around the world, as the majority of the roster is comprised of domestic league players. Plus with three tough teams in their group, it’d be a minor miracle if they advanced to the knockout stage.

World Cup history

Iran’s three appearances at the World Cup have been brief, all ending in first round exits. There were two modest highlights, though—a draw against Scotland in 1978, and a win over the United States in 1998, their first and only World Cup victory to date.

• 1930 to 1970—Did not enter
• 1974—Did not qualify
• 1978—First round
• 1982 to 1994—Did not qualify
• 1998— First round
• 2002—Did not qualify
• 2006— First round
• 2010—Did not qualify

Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States

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