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When it comes to underdogs few Asian teams can claim a richer history than Iran in terms of tradition and previous triumphs.
Iranian football legends Ali Daei and Ali Karimi, who both claim to have played for Bayern Munich, as well as Mehdi Mahdavikia, who has revered at fellow German club Hamburg, have made their mark on the continent. Iran won three straight AFC Asian Cups from 1968 to 1976.
Team Melli, who made their FIFA World Cup debut in 1978 and are the fifth team to ever represent the continent, are consistently among Asia’s top teams and have qualified for the last three editions of football’s premier competition.
Nevertheless, despite all of their historical prowess, Iran has never advanced past the group stage of a World Cup.
In spite of all the prior success they have enjoyed, there is evidence to imply that they have never had a team as talented as the one traveling to Qatar in 2022. So the issue is, will this be the year that Iran’s golden generation writes history? particularly in what is unquestionably a difficult Group B, which includes Wales, England, and the United States.
Even thinking back to four years ago, Team Melli had already come agonizingly close to achieving that historic knockout-round berth in what was arguably an even tougher group that included Spain and Portugal.
The Iranians were barely given a chance in their final match against Portugal but managed to hold the European heavyweights to a 1-1 draw after starting the tournament with a 2-1 victory over Morocco and a close but admirable loss to Spain. A crucial last-second miss by Mehdi Taremi prevented it from being a victory. Iran ultimately lost out in agonizing fashion, finishing one point behind both Spain and Portugal.
They have only gotten stronger over the past four years. Of the 25 players they announced on Monday, 13 are currently playing in Europe. With Porto, Taremi is thriving in Europe and has five Champions League goals to his name from this season’s group stage alone. He was understandably upset following that miss against Portugal.
Sardar Azmoun, his attack partner, won four straight Russian Premier League championships with Zenit St. Petersburg before going to the Bundesliga. He was even the league’s Player of the Season in 2020–21, despite being injured since joining Bayer Leverkusen.
Majid Hosseini and Ali Gholizadeh have both followed many of their countrymen in making the grade abroad, while even more, seasoned stalwarts like Karim Ansarifard and Saeid Ezatolahi are still thriving in Europe even if they may not be gracing the high-profile competitions. Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Saman Ghoddos now have Premier League experience to their names.
Perhaps most importantly, Iran will also be led by Carlos Queiroz, one of the craftiest and most astute tacticians in the game. Queiroz left Team Melli after the 2019 Asian Cup but was only brought back in September to take Dragan Skocic’s place.
It will be simple for those who are unaware to discount Team Melli right away. The other Group B contenders, such as England, the United States, and even Wales due to Gareth Bale, will always receive more attention.
The Iranians, however, won’t be bothered by that. Time will tell, but there is a good potential that Iran may soon add a long-awaited new chapter to its World Cup legacy.