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Iran World Cup 2022 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

:Headline: Iran World Cup 2022 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player:
Ahead of this winter's World Cup in Qatar, Sports Mole assesses the chances of an Iran side as they look to reach the knockout stages for the first time.
Sports Mole

Iran will be competing at the World Cup for the third successive tournament in Qatar this winter, having finished ahead of South Korea in AFC's qualifying section.

Team Melli won only their second-ever match at a World Cup when they beat Morocco 1-0 in Russia in 2018, but they ultimately fell short of reaching the knockout stages for the first time in their history after finishing one point behind Spain and Portugal in Group B.

Here, Sports Mole assesses their chances of going one step further than they ever have at the 2022 World Cup.


GROUP

Iran were seeded in Pot 3 for April's draw, and there is little doubt that it could have been kinder to them having been drawn alongside England, USA and Wales in Group B.

With all four teams heading to Qatar inside the top 20 positions of FIFA's World Rankings, it it set to be one of the most fiercely competitive groups at the tournament.

England will be expected to finish first having reached the semi-finals in 2018 before finishing as runners-up at Euro 2020, meaning Iran's results against Wales and one of their biggest rivals USA - who they beat in France in 1998 - could prove crucial in terms of determining whether they can progress beyond the group stage for the first ever time.

FIXTURES

November 21: England vs. Iran (1pm, Khalifa International Stadium, Doha)
November 25: Wales vs. Iran (10am, Al Rayyan Stadium, Al Rayyan)
November 29: Iran vs. USA (7pm, Al Thumama Stadium, Al Thumama)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Iran marginally edged out Iraq by one point to finish first in Group C of the second round of AFC qualifying, winning six and drawing two of their eight matches after suffering a disappointing 2-1 defeat to their fiercest rivals in Amman.

It is the third and final round of Asian qualifying which matters most, of course, with 12 nations halved into two groups. The top two within each group automatically qualify for the World Cup, with both third-placed sides facing each other in a playoff, before the winner takes on a South American side for a place on the grandest stage of them all.

Iran avoided any of that drama, though, by finishing top of Group A with 25 points from 10 matches. Their only dropped points came against runners-up South Korea, who claimed a 1-1 draw in Tehran before defeating them 2-0 in Seoul.

Bayer Leverkusen forward Sardar Azmoun top-scored for Team Melli with 10 goals overall, while Porto's Mehdi Taremi and Omonia's Karim Ansarifard both finished with seven goals apiece.

Iran's path to Qatar was actually achieved by former head coach Dragan Skocic who, despite setting the best-ever performance of the Iranian national team in World Cup qualifiers, was fired in September and replaced by Carlos Queiroz, who led Iran to both of their previous World Cup appearances.


RECENT FORM

Iran have only played three warm-up friendlies under Queiroz's management, beating Uruguay 1-0 at the NV Arena through Taremi's late strike in September, before claiming a 1-1 draw courtesy of Azmoun's equaliser four days later at the BSFZ-Arena.

Most recently, they defeated Nicaragua 1-0 at the Azadi Stadium on home soil, with Mehdi Torabi bagging the winner in the 15th minute before the hosts showed their usual defensive steeliness despite putting out a weakened side due to club involvements.

Prior to Queiroz's appointment, Team Melli were beaten 2-1 by Algeria in a friendly in Qatar in June, so the former Real Madrid boss will be hoping that they perform much better in those surroundings when the World Cup begins later this month.


SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Amir Abedzadeh (Ponferradina), Hossein Hosseini (Esteghlal), Payam Niazmand (Sepahan)

Defenders: Ehsan Hajsafi (AEK Athens), Morteza Pouraliganji (Persepolis), Ramin Rezaeian (Sepahan), Milad Mohammadi (AEK Athens), Hossein Kanaanizadegan (Al-Ahli), Shojae Khalilzadeh (Al-Ahli), Sadegh Moharrami (Dinamo Zagreb), Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal), Majid Hosseini (Kayserispor), Abolfazl Jalali (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Vahid Amiri, Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Feyenoord), Saeid Ezatolahi (Vejle), Mehdi Torabi (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Brentford), Ali Gholizadeh (Charleroi), Ahmad Nourollahi (Shabab Al-Ahli), Ali Karimi (Kayserispor)

Forwards: Karim Ansarifard (Omonia), Sardar Azmoun (Bayer Leverkusen), Mehdi Taremi (Porto)


STAR PLAYER - MEHDI TAREMI

Iran are a team who are focused on keeping clean sheets first and foremost, certainly now that Queiroz has returned to the helm, increasing the burden on their attackers to produce moments of magic to win matches.

While Karim Ansarifard and Sardar Azmoun may have scored more goals for their country than him heading into the World Cup, there is little doubt that Mehdi Taremi is Iran's most in-form attacker and most potent forward at their disposal.

The 30-year-old has bagged 28 goals in only 60 caps for Iran, and has scored 62 times in 114 appearances since joining Portuguese Primeira Liga champions Porto in 2020.

Taremi has proven himself at the highest level by scoring five goals in five Champions League matches already this season, helping the Dragons to top spot in Group B, and Queiroz will be counting on a similarly high level of performance from his main man in Qatar.


MANAGER - CARLOS QUEIROZ

Carlos Queiroz was only hired as Iran's manager in September after the surprise sacking of Dragan Skocic, who had enjoyed a successful two-and-a-half-year spell with Team Melli.

However, Queiroz is a hugely popular figure in Iran having overseen their development as a footballing nation for almost eight years between 2011 and 2019, taking them to only their fourth-ever World Cup in 2014 before guiding them to only their second-ever win in the competition four years later.

The former Manchester United assistant manager fell short of winning the Asian Cup, though, having reached the quarter-finals in 2015 before going one step further by crashing out at the semi-finals four years later.

Likewise, the 69-year-old was beaten on penalties by Senegal as Egypt manager in the Africa Cup of Nations final earlier this year, although taking a distinctly limited outfit - Liverpool's Mohamed Salah aside - that far was a triumph in itself.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Group stage (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014, 2018)

Iran have qualified for five previous World Cups in their history - in 1978, 1998, 2006, 2014 and 2018 - but they have never progressed beyond the group stage.

Their best showing came last time out in Russia, when they claimed only their second-ever victory through Aziz Bouhaddouz's injury-time penalty against Morocco in their opening match, before lightning struck twice as Ansarifard bagged from the penalty spot in the 93rd minute to claim a creditable 1-1 draw against Portugal on the final matchday.

However, Queiroz's side had required all three points if they were to finish above their opponents in Group B and progress to the knockout stages for the first time, so that potential achievement will have to wait until later this year in Qatar.


PREDICTION

There is little doubt that Iran have made huge forward strides as a footballing nation in recent years, and they have every chance of edging USA or Wales into second spot in Group B.

We ultimately expect their lack of attacking fluency under Queiroz's management to hold them back from reaching the knockout stage for the first time in their history, but there is likely to be very little in it within what appears to be an incredibly tight group.

VERDICT: Fourth in Group B body check tags ::

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Read more about Carlos Queiroz Dragan Skocic Karim Ansarifard Mehdi Taremi Sardar Azmoun Mohamed Salah Alireza Beiranvand Amir Abedzadeh Hossein Hosseini Payam Niazmand Ehsan Hajsafi Morteza Pouraliganji Ramin Rezaeian Milad Mohammadi Hossein Kanaanizadegan Shojae Khalilzadeh Sadegh Moharrami Rouzbeh Cheshmi Majid Hosseini Abolfazl Jalali Vahid Amiri Alireza Jahanbakhsh Saeid Ezatolahi Mehdi Torabi Saman Ghoddos Ali Gholizadeh Ahmad Nourollahi Ali Karimi Aziz Bouhaddouz Football
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