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Coach: Carlos Queiroz
The three-time Asian Cup winners will appear at the World Cup for the fifth time, their second in a row, but Iran never reached the knockout stage of the competition, and it would be surprising to see them doing it now in Russia. In the previous tournament in Brazil 2014, Iran suffered two loses with a draw and ended in the 28th place overall.
Iran was drawn in the Group B together with the European champions Portugal, Spain, who is the biggest favorite to finish at the top of the group, and Morocco, and although they are not expected to advance to the Round of 16, the Iranians will probably fight with Morocco for the third place. Iran is currently positioned in the 36th place in the FIFA world rankings, Portugal is the best-ranked in the 4th spot, Spain is the 8th, while Morocco is in the 44th position.
Appointing European coaches is a trend for the African and Asian national sides since the 50s of the last century, and Carlos Queiroz proved to be a huge hit in Iran as he became the first–ever coach who led them to consecutive World Cups, so it’s obvious that he is one of the most deserving for recent success. The Portuguese tactician managed Sporting Lisbon, Real Madrid, and Portugal in his 30 years coaching career, and from the moment he took over the reign at Iran, Queiroz' has been renowned for introducing players from the Iranian diaspora to the national squad, which wasn’t the case earlier.
After getting Iran to the World Cup 2014, the football association decided to extend his contract, and Queiroz delivered it again, not losing a single match in qualifications. Although he nearly became the head coach of Cameroon in April 2018, Queiroz remained in Iran and will now try to get them to the second round for the first time in nation’s history.
Although they allowed only five goals in 18 matches during Asian qualifications, playing at the World Cup against the planet’s best team is something completely else, and I think Iran’s defense doesn’t have the quality to repeat impressive displays. The team’s best two defenders, Jalal Hosseini and Pejman Montazeri are very experienced, but I suppose their age would represent a problem against the younger opponents, so the pair that has 70 years combined will likely struggle when defending the speedy strikers.
To Reach Semi-Finals: +5000
To Reach Quarter-Finals: +1400
Group Qualifying Yes/No: +550/-900
Group Phase Matches:
Iran’s player to watch
Queiroz has several good players at his disposal who are earning for their bread in Europe, but I have to highlight Alireza Jahanbakhsh out of the lot as the 24-year-old winger is currently the best player in the squad. The AZ Alkmaar forward dominated this season in Holland and became the first Asian player ever to become the top goal-scorer in a top-level European league, which is a great achievement, and thanks to excellent displays in this campaign, Jahanbakhsh was heavily linked with the Italian giants Napoli.
Alireza scored 22 goals and added 14 assists in 39 appearances for AZ in the 2017/18, and will have the likes of Reza Ghoochannejhad, who scored the only goal for Iran in Brazil 2014, highly-regarded Sardar Azmoun, and Karim Ansarifard to help him in the attack, so Jahanbakhsh could turn out to be a major hit at this tournament.
Iran’s World Cup 2018 Prediction
Since the time of Ali Daei, Ali Karimi, Javad Nekounam, Mehdi Mahdavikia, Karim Bagheri, and Andranik Teymourian, this is probably the best generation of Iran players, but Spain and Portugal are simply too much for them to handle, so I don’t think they will progress to the Round of 16. The opening tilt with Morocco will be extremely important for the Iranians, and if they manage to defeat the Atlas Lions, their confidence will become much bigger, and a potential surprise can occur. However, the third place in the Group B is their maximum right now.