Iran may not necessarily be an Asian power on the level of Japan, South Korea or Australia, but they certainly matched the confederation’s power trio en route to booking their place in Brazil. For the fourth time in their history, the Iranians are set to compete on the sport’s biggest stage, and should be encouraged by the fact that they lost just two games during World Cup qualifying. Led by manager Carlos Quieroz, Iran will hope to get out of the group stage for the first time in their history and build on their lone World Cup victory, which came against the United States in 1998.
WORLD CUP PROSPECTS
Well, the draw was not quite what the Iranians were hoping for. Contenders Argentina and impressive upstarts Bosnia-Herzegovina make for a low chance of getting through to the knockout stage. But Team Melli will no go quietly, if they go at all. Their defense conceded only seven goals in 16 World Cup qualifiers. That's where their experience lies, and manager Carlos Quiroz is devout to his defensive principles. If they get three points against Nigeria -- something they've only done once before, in 1998, against the United States -- and then stifle the heavyweights' vaunted attacks, they just might have a chance at a major upset. More likely, they will make it tough but ultimately succumb.
GROUP F SCHEDULE
STARS TO WATCH
Javad Nekounam, M, Esteghlal FC (pictured left): The Iranian captain and owner of 139 caps led the side with six World Cup qualifying goals and came up just short in his chase for the AFC Player of the Year award. He made his international name with La Liga side Osasuna, who lost out on the powerful midfielder after six years following a protracted transfer saga.
Reza Ghoochannejhad, F, Standard Liege: The Iranian-Dutch striker joined up with his birth nation in late 2012 and has seven goals in his first nine appearances to emerge as one of the stars of the squad. But is he a potential savior? Some are already saddling the 26-year-old with those lofty expectations.
Steven Beitashour, D, Vancouver Whitecaps: The attack-minded right back, who was born in San Jose, California, only joined the Iranian fold late in 2013 when he realized he probably wasn't going to get a USMNT call up, but has quickly become an important part of the backline. He's already made 6 appearances in Asian Cup qualifying and pre-World Cup friendlies.
Carlos Queiroz (right) is about as well traveled as they come in international management, and he finds himself at the helm of Iran after leading Portugal in South Africa.
Queiroz has introduced a number of dual nationals to the squad, most notably Ghoochannejhad and later Beitashour, as Iran blew through qualifying and solidified themselves as a group-phase darkhorse. He's lost just four games in 32 so far with the Persian Stars, but the World Cup will pose a much stiffer challenge.
On a completely different note, the Portuguese boss made headlines this summer after South Korea claimed he made an "obscene gesture" toward their bench.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 10-4-2, 16 pts. / 30 GF, 7 GA (first place Asian Football Confederation Group A)
South Korea were the favorite in Group A, but it was the Iranians who topped the table after allowing just two goals in eight matches. The question mark is goalscoring, as their eight goals scored were by far the fewest among Asia's World Cup qualifiers. Still, Iran have reason to believe their fourth World Cup appearance will be their most rewarding.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Iran's shining World Cup moment came during France 1998 when they defeated the United States, 2-1, in a match that garnered international interest because of the political situation between the two countries. Apart from that result, the Persian Stars have failed to reach the group phase in all three of their previous trips (Argentina 1978, France 1998 and Germany 2006), and have just two draws to call their own in nine World Cup matches.
San Jose Earthquakes defender Steven Beitashour is a recent addition to squad, recording his first assist in a 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Thailand. Head coach Carlos Queiroz led the NY/NY MetroStars in MLS inaugural year. Two assistant coaches also have ties to the MLS, with assistant coach Omid Namazi enjoying a brief stint with the Metrostars in 1996 at the same time goalkeeper coach Dan Gaspar, who has a wealth of experience in the international, professional and college game, was training Tony Meola.