World Cup 2014 Expert Interview: Iran’s diaspora, ambitions, and more

As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.

Iran World Cup Interview

For this interview, focusing on Iran, we spoke with Amro Alkado, writer for SandalsForGoalPosts. Follow him on twitter @TheArabScot

Iran have been the most consistent side from West Asia over the last few years, compared to the likes of Saudi Arabia (in particular, traditionally a big team). What makes Iran superior to other teams from the region?

Iran as a National side has improved and become more consistent under Queiroz while Saudi Arabia have obviously endured a terrible decade since 2006. There are signs in recent years that Saudi are stabilising and improving once again, however they still have a way to go. Other countries such as Iraq, Jordan & Oman have their own issues. Iraq obviously cannot play at home and are dealing with massive internal strife-a huge issue in long world cup campaigns, whilst the likes of Jordan & Oman can only rely on golden generations due to the size of these countries. So it is a case of Iran improving while most of the rest regress (in the case of Iraq & Syria) or improve at a slower pace (in the case of Saudi & Jordan).

Iran has a relatively strong domestic league, and although the Saudi league is deemed stronger (and recent ACL showings by Saudi clubs have shown this to be true), Querioz has found a decent balance between local & foreign based stars for his side.

How has the Carlos Queiroz experiment been so far for the Iranian national team? What sort of tactical philosophy has the Portuguese man followed thus far?

Queiroz has revitalised the Iranian National side. Under his stewardship they are now the highest ranked Asian side by FIFA (I know, that ranking system is poor but it isn’t all lies!). He has brought the initially skeptical fans onside too with his fearless comments and he isn’t afraid to blast an often unpopular FA too. Iran as is the norm with West Asian sides are not well known for their tactical acumen, especially off the ball, but this is something that Queiroz has worked on with incredible success. Iran are possibly the most difficult Asian side to break down at the moment (they let in only two goals in the final WCQ round-the best record in Asia)and it’s all to do with Queiroz instilling remarkable defensive discipline. The shape of the team is a defensive 4-2-3-1. Don’t expect flamboyant full backs to bomb forward and send in dangerous crosses. When they lose the ball they tend to line up in two banks of 4 at the back and the emphasis is on limiting the options. They did this well against S Korea in the qualifiers, twice. Whilst this is great for qualifying campaigns, it doesn’t bode well for a cup tournament with far stronger opposition where there are only 3 games to decide your fate. Goals will be hard to come by in this tournament for Iran.

Also watch out for Iran’s weakness when defending set pieces.

Carlos Queiroz has discovered players across Europe who have Iranian roots and convinced them to play with the West Asian national team, taking advantage of the extensive Iranian diaspora; a smart move. How important have these sort of players been and how important will they be at the World Cup?

The lack of European based players in West Asian sides is a crippling deficiency. Whilst some of the leagues are improving drastically they are still way off the best European leagues. Queiroz has made strides forward by including players who are based in Europe. They bring a completely different footballing culture into the mix, which may sound like it should take away from the harmony, but in fact it just adds to his options and increases competition for places in the squad.

Players like Dejagah, Jahanbakhsh &Reza Ghoochannejhad will add a different element for Carlos Querioz to utilise and their superior physical conditioning could be key in the World Cup.

The highest goalscorer in the current team is Javed Nekounam but he isn’t one who would be relied upon for goals, so where are the goals coming from in this Iranian side?

Javed Nekounam is an Iranian NT veteran, but the fact he is 33 and still their leading scorer in the WCQ from midfield is slightly troubling at a first glance.  Lest we forget Reza Ghoochannejhad of Charlton though, who was their top scorer in the Asian Cup 2015 qualifiers is their main source of goals as a more natural forward. His stats don’t tell the whole story for the World Cup Qualifiers because he was introduced into the starting line up late due to Visa issues. So expect him to be the one providing the most goals from now on-9 goals in 11 games for Iran speaks volumes. The goal scoring load is generally shared out amongst a few players though, so whilst they may have finally found a prolific goal scorer in the mould of the great Ali Daei, goals shouldn’t be too difficult to come by regardless.

It has often been said how Asian teams are of inferior quality due to their lack of physicality. They are at a disadvantage in that regard, but for a team experienced in Middle Eastern climatic conditions, could that be used to their advantage in South America?

I think the recent dominance of Barcelona in European club football has blown a huge hole in the physicality argument. But I do agree that the physical conditioning of players in Asia is something that can & needs to be improved. The culture of football in West Asia is different, and more weight is given to technique and skill rather than physical conditioning. Having said all that, Iran are generally viewed as one of the more physical West Asian sides! I think the climate conditions can play a factor,the game is played at a slower pace in West Asia in the intense heat and often humidity too, so the climate shouldn’t be a problem. Though the only side in their group who may not be used to that sort of climate would be Bosnia!

2014 FIFA World Cup Group F

We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. Our focus is thus on Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Do you see the 20-year-old featuring for the team in Brazil? What sort of impact will he have?

Jahanbakhsh is an exciting young Iranian prospect, and although his side NEC have just been relegated, it says a lot that he is tipped to move back to an Eredivisie side with many clubs in the hunt. He plays as a winger and whilst he prefers the right side, this is Dejagah’s position, he can also play on the left where he’d have to displace the more experienced Shojaei. So it’s most likely we may see him coming off the bench, unless an injury is sustained by one of the starters.

Just being at the finals is always celebrated in Iran, it’s no different now. But with Argentina the only clear favourites, there is a lot to play for in Group F. Nigeria aren’t the strongest either, while Bosnia are inexperienced in big tournament, making their debut. Realistically, where can you Iran finishing?

A constant issue in West Asia in particular is trying to raise ambitions, and this goes for the fans & media more so than the players. The goal seems to be reaching the World Cup rather than aiming to go far in the tournament. This widespread view inevitably feeds through to the players so much so that first round exits are sometimes not seen as failures, and the players are celebrated wildly upon returning home. One of the major problems of this is the lack of direct & focused planning by FAs in West Asia to develop the game further.

I expect that while Bosnia have to be favourites to clinch second spot-albeit as tournament debutantes-Iran will have a slim chance of sneaking in as second in the group. Nigeria are African champions but will not intimidate Iran, and Bosnia may find their first showing at the tournament more difficult than they anticipated.Iran will play defensively and try to score goals on the break but their preparation for the tournament hasn’t gone to plan so far, and if Queiroz says”We will not make it to the next round.” Then that cannot fill the Iranian contingent with much hope or confidence.

Read all our World Cup Interviews here, and all other WC2014 related content here.