Schedule: June 16 vs. Nigeria; June 21 vs. Argentina; June 25 vs. Bosnia
World Cup Record: 1-6-2 (Qualified 1978, 1998, 2006)
Qualifying Form: Finished first in AFC group A, two points ahead of South Korea.
Manager: Carlos Queiroz, a well-traveled 61-year-0ld Portuguese national who has stops at both NY/NJ MetroStars and Real Madrid on his resumé, along with serving as Sir Alex Ferguson’s right hand man at Manchester United. He’s also the author of the ill-fated U.S. Soccer Project 2010. If he doesn’t already have an autobiography, Queiroz should write one.
Player to Watch: Ashkan Dejagah. Call this Premier League favoritism, but Dejagah was one of the few bright spots down the final run of games for relegated Fulham. The Iranian right midfielder couldn’t keep the Cottagers in the Premier League on his heroics alone. He probably faces an even higher hurdle trying to get Iran into the knockout rounds.
Tactics/Style: Another international team, another 4-2-3-1 formation. Reza Ghoochannejhad, Dutch-Iranian, will be the lone forward. He has nine goals in 12 international games.
Odds of winning: 1,500-to-1
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Miscellany: Iran’s defensive record is strong, allowing only seven goals in 16 qualifiers. … Captain Javad Nekounam might hit 140 caps at the World Cup, making him one of the most experienced players at the tournament. … 20 of the 30 players in Iran’s intial squad are domestic-based, meaning the Lions will likely have the least amount of players based at the big European leagues of any team at the World Cup. That’s not necessarily a negative. … Andranik Teymourian, now 31, kicked around at Bolton and briefly Fulham circa 2006. He’s now back playing in Iran after a career that included a stopover at the wonderfully-named Tractor F.C.
A low point for U.S. Soccer: Iran defeated the U.S. 2-1 at the 1998 World Cup in France, a nadir for the entire U.S. Soccer program en route to a 32nd-place showing for Steve Sampson’s ill-fated squad.
U-S-A!: Vancouver Whitecaps defender Steven Beitashour was born in San Jose, Calif., but will play for Iran at the World Cup. If you want to read more about his decision-making process and what it’s like for an American national to go back and play in Iran, you can read about it here.
Last word: Best case scenario: Iran upsets Nigeria in its opener and then utilizes Queiroz’s close to the vest style to grind out a draw against either Argentina or Bosnia, otherwise it’ll be a quick three-and-out. Iran isn’t as weak as some might make the team out to be, it’s just it doesn’t have enough scoring to keep pace with Argentina or Bosnia unless everything breaks right.