Soccer Queiroz: The re-hiring of Carlos Queiroz as Iran coach threatened to derail the country’s preparations for a third consecutive World Cup appearance but instead has galvanized an aging squad for one last shot at history.
Iran has never advanced beyond the group stage in five previous World Cup campaigns, but after being drawn into a group with England, Wales, and the United States, hopes are growing that their disappointing record will be broken.
Queiroz took over as manager again in mid-September, replacing Dragan Skocic after qualification was assured, with the Croatian ousted as a result of the fallout from an acrimonious Iran Football Federation presidential election.
The former Real Madrid and Portugal coach is looking to rekindle the relationship he built with the squad during his previous eight-year tenure, and it’s clear from the start that not much has changed for the 69-year-old coach.
Queiroz selected 16 of the 23-man squad he selected for the finals in Russia in 2018, when Iran recorded their best-ever World Cup result with four points from three games, for September friendlies against Uruguay and Senegal.
Team Melli narrowly missed out on a spot in the knockout rounds as a result, and Queiroz and co. will be determined to go one step further in Qatar.
Off-field issues, on the other hand, could cause significant distractions for the Iranians.
Domestically, the matches against England and the United States will be politically charged, while protests over women’s rights in Iran have had a psychological impact on a squad that was already fractured by the controversy surrounding Queiroz’s re-hiring.
The performances against Uruguay and Senegal in September, however, bore all the hallmarks of a Queiroz-coached side, with defensive discipline and ruthlessness on the counterattack being crucial.
Iran’s defense worked hard to keep Uruguay strikers Darwin Nunez and Luis Suarez quiet before Mehdi Taremi came off the bench to start and finish the move that resulted in the game’s lone goal in Austria.
Taremi, who has risen to prominence with Porto in the last two seasons, carries much of Iran’s attacking threat and can be used alone or in tandem with Sardar Azmoun of Bayer Leverkusen.
As Iran looks to break new ground at the World Cup, former Brighton & Hove Albion winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh will be eager to show English football fans that they did not see the best of his talents during his three-season stint in the Premier League.