They’re back! Team Melli is in the World Cup for the fourth time in national history after qualifying in 1978, 1998 and 2006. After missing out in 2010, they were one of the first teams to qualify for this 2014 version of the greatest spectacle in sports. They won their group in the qualifying round decisively and are currently ranked #1 in Asia. They are now in Brazil with aspirations of winning the World Cup trophy. But first things first, getting past the first round Group F Stage where they will be facing Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Argentina. Even though a majority of the Iranian players may lack experience against global powers, their coaching staff is well versed. Led by former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, the Iranian national team is poised to have a good showing. Queiroz will be supported on the pitch by such stalwarts as Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejhad, who he hand picked to join the national team roster.
Dejagah, a forward for Fulham in the English Premier League has the most experience against formidable opponents. Ghoochannejhad, affectionately called Gucci, also plays professionally in England for Charlton Athletic. Team Melli’s captain Javad Nekounam, a central midfielder known for his passing and long-range shots, was the leading scorer during Iran's World Cup qualifying campaign. He is second all-time in caps for the Iranian team with 140, just behind Ali Daei. Nekounam also has World Cup experience, playing two games for the national team in Germany in 2006. Defensively, Team Melli is led by Iranian-American footballer Steven Beitashour, who plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS. Also, leading the defensive front is Andranik Teymourian who played in the 2006 World Cup as well. Other key players are Khosro Heydari, Karim Ansari and Hashem Beikzadeh.
Iran’s hopes of getting to the knockout stage for the first time in national history rests with their defense and coaching. One of Quieroz’s first adjustments after becoming head coach was making several difficult roster decisions to bolster the backfield. First, he tweaked the goalkeeping personnel and later recruited Dejagah and Ghoochannejhad. The two strikers with European club experience will be expected to lead the offensive attack, but are supported by the proven leadership of Nekounam. As Team Melli embarks on the grandest of stages, they have their sights set on their upcoming schedule. Iran’s most formidable opponent will be Argentina led by striker Lionel Messi, who is considered by some as the greatest footballer of all time. Bosnia and Herzegovina are the only newcomers to the World Cup tournament. Despite being debutantes to the grand stage of football, they still pose a threat. They are led by Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, goalkeeper Asmir Begovic also of the Premier League and have the coaching expertise of legendary Yugoslavian player Safet Susic.
Iran opens group play Monday June 16 against Nigeria. The Super Eagles won the African Cup of Nations and are led by Liverpool forward Victor Moses. Team Melli, for the most part, is not expected to advance past the first round. History may not be on their side. But the experience of Quieroz, the striking consistency from their stars, and the defensive discipline of their backfield can allow Iran to stay longer in Brazil than expected. After all, if their coach is fluent in Portuguese, what better way to make use of his native tongue by keeping his players in Brazil for as long as possible?