05/03/2024
Mehdi Taremi is one of the biggest names heading to this Asian Cup. PHOTO: FC Porto - Twitter

Mehdi Taremi is one of the biggest names heading to this Asian Cup. PHOTO: FC Porto - Twitter

Despite the rapid rise of the likes of Japan and Saudi Arabia over the years, Iran still holds its status as one of the biggest footballing nations in Asia. 

Drawn with the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, and Palestine in Group C, the Iranians will look to break a historic 48-year drought in the Qatari desert. 

Listen to the A-Leagues of Our Own podcast for a full preview of Australia’s main challengers for the title.

History

Iran won two Asian Cup titles back in 1968 and 1976, as well as qualifying for Asia’s premier competition 14 consecutive times.

In 2019, they managed to reach the semi-finals where they lost to Japan; where there was a sense that Iran expected more from themselves given they hadn’t reached a final for over four decades. 

Fascinatingly, Iran has met the Socceroos on six occasions, holding a record of three wins, two draws, and one loss. 

The last time they faced each other was back in 1997 during the infamous World Cup qualifier at the MCG in Melbourne, as Iran fought back from a 2-0 deficit to qualify for France ’98. 

Recent Form

The two-time Asian champions are unbeaten in 13 matches, with their last loss arriving at the hands of the United States at the 2022 World Cup. 

Since that defeat, Iran has recorded 40 goals and conceded eight on the opposing end, indicating that the squad has found the right balance at the perfect moment heading into the Asian Cup. 

In Iran’s most recent outings, they tend to lean on a 4-3-3 formation and opt to play expansive football to push numbers high up the pitch with overlaps from the fullbacks. 

Rain Rezaeian is one of those fullbacks who will become important for Iran’s project, but his attacking instincts due to being able to play out on the wing could expose the right-hand side of the defence. 

The freedom in front of goal is mostly down to the new change of manager who has changed the mentality of no longer grinding out results, instead taking the game to the opposition. 

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Players to Watch

Two standout forwards jump out when analysing the squad list to partake in the upcoming tournament. 

Roma striker Sardar Azmoun, on loan from Bayer Leverkusen, hasn’t featured an awful deal under Jose Mourinho, but the 29-year-old always tends to contribute effectively as a super-sub when a particular game is crying out for inspiration. 

Reports suggest that Azmoun initially promised Roma that he would not be leaving the club mid-season to join Iran for international commitments.

However, the Iranian Federation had the last laugh as they put forward their case. 

FC Porto forward Mehdi Taremi will be another player that Graham Arnold will analyse in preparation for a potential meeting in the knockout stages. 

Having scored 190 goals in 103 appearances for both Porto and his national team combined, Taremi is a big body who will hold the ball up and bring his teammates into play to help create valuable space. 

Manager in Focus

Iran experienced a coaching switch after the World Cup concluded, as former Real Madrid and Portugal boss Carlos Queiroz received his marching orders after Iran failed to escape out of their group in Qatar. 

Now, Amir Ghalenoei has taken over the reigns, quickly instilling his attacking blueprint and forward-thinking philosophy.

The 60-year-old is the most successful coach in Iranian Premier League history, winning five titles. 

Ghalenoei previously managed Iran from 2006 to 2007, before being dismissed due to an underwhelming performance at the Asian Cup. 

Prediction

Iran should pick up at least seven points in the group, with the UAE proving to be their biggest challenger. From there, another appearance in the semi-finals is most likely. 

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