Factfile on Iran, who are in World Cup Group B:
Best World Cup performance: First round in five previous appearances.
Other honours: Asian Cup winners in 1968, 1972, 1976.
FIFA ranking: 20.
Main clubs: Persepolis, Esteghlal, Sepahan.
How they qualified: Iran topped Asian Group A in third round.
Coach: Mozambique-born Carlos Queiroz, 69, thought his dreams of a fourth consecutive appearance at a World Cup as a coach had been dashed when Egypt lost to Senegal in an African play-off. But divisions in the Iran camp over Croat coach Dragan Skocic led to his departure and the return of the former Real Madrid manager. Queiroz, who was also formerly assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, led the Asian giants to the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. After coming last in their group in Brazil and then third in Russia, he will have realistic hopes of reaching the second round this time.
Key player: The passion of Bayer Leverkusen forward Sardar Azmoun for goals is matched only by his love of horses. When he is not scoring for club or country, the 27-year-old is involved in his horse racing and breeding complex in the northern town where he was born. Often called the Messi of Iran, he averages two goals from every three appearances for the national team. Azmoun played for three Russian clubs before moving to Germany this year and is renowned for his acceleration, innovation and aerial power. Some Iranians have given Azmoun the ultimate compliment — comparing him to the legendary Ali Daei.
Expectations and key players according to Sina Sadrzadeh, Iran Football.:
“Iran was placed in the ‘Group of Death’ four years ago: Spain, Portugal (European Champions at the time) and Morocco. Despite this, Iran beat Morocco and draw against Portugal, narrowly missing out on progressing into the next round. Four years on, a lot has changed for Iran, both on and off the pitch – managerial replacements, public squad division on social media, almost being knocked out in early qualifications, political tensions, the list goes on. However, from a football perspective, it is obvious that this is now Iran’s Golden Generation and they have finally flourished. We witnessed glimpses in 2018, but after a long-standing unbeaten run, the return of the heavily experienced and tactical Carlos Quieroz (former assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson) who has united the team to beat Uruguay and draw with African champions, Senegal, in recent friendlies; hopes are extremely high in an easier group compared to the previous World Cup.”
“There is added depth in positions, cohesivity and experience of players performing at the top level. Iran’s star player is Porto talisman Mehdi Taremi, who is currently 3rd top goalscorer in the Champions League with a deadly international record level to match. Other players to look for include Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Feyenoord), Sardar Azmoun (Bayer Leverkusen) and Saman Ghoddos (Brentford). Iran is being severely underestimated in this tournament.”
November 21: England v Iran
November 25: Wales v Iran
November 29: Iran v USA
Goalkeepers: Amir Abedzadeh (Ponferradina/ESP), Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Hossein Hosseini (Esteghlal).
Defenders: Saleh Hardani (Esteghlal), Majid Hosseini (Kayserispor/TUR), Abolfazl Jalali (Esteghlal), Hossein Kanaanizadegan (Al Ahli/QAT), Shojae Khalilzadeh (Al Ahli/QAT), Milad Mohammadi (AEK Athens/GRE), Sadegh Moharrami (Dinamo Zagreb/CRO), Omid Noorafkan (Sepahan), Morteza Pouraliganji (Persepolis), Ramin Rezaeian (Sepahan).
Midfielders: Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Omid Ebrahimi (Al Wakrah/QAT), Saeid Ezatolahi (Vejle/DEN), Saman Ghoddos (Brentford/ENG), Ali Gholizadeh (Charleroi/BEL), Ehsan Hajsafi (AEK Athens/GRE), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Feyenoord/NED), Ahmad Nourollahi (Shabab al Ahli/UAE), Milad Sarlak (Persepolis).
Forwards: Karim Ansarifard (Omonia Nicosia/CYP), Sardar Azmoun (Bayer Leverkusen/GER), Mehdi Taremi (Porto/POR), Mehdi Torabi (Persepolis).
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