There were many stories regarding Iran during the last decade or two. None of them, it seems, or at least most of them, were revolving around sports. Well, there were a few stories on the country’s athletes, but they usually were about a female athlete's insistence to compete with the hijab (a head veil). As for football, despite Iran’s national team's long periods of absence from major international tournaments, it has registered a golden age at the top of Asian football and no less than five qualifications for FIFA World Cup.
Although it played its first official match in 1941, Iran didn’t compete in the FIFA qualifying rounds until 1970. It was a team on a rise in the first part of the 1970’s, with three consecutive wins of the Asia Cup and a qualification to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. The revolution of 1979 put a halt to the progress. During the early 1980’s a mix of politics and sports was evident not only in American-Russian relations with a two Olympic games boycott, but Iranian football was laid to rest and ceased to exist in a country that found itself drifting apart from the outside world. There was no international football in Iran during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Since then, Iran – e Melli as the national team is known - has qualified to four World Cup, the most recent one is the tournament in Russia 2018.
Iran’s most recognized figure is probably its coach, Portuguese Carlos Queiroz. As for the question, how such a religious and secluded country aligned itself with a foreign coach, the answer lies in Queiroz’s ability to adjust to local life and mentality in Teheran. The former head coach of Portugal’s national team, Real Madrid (both traumatic terms) and assistant coach under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United for number of years (in a very successful two terms), Queiroz has been able to install the siege, us against the world mentality in his players, in a way fellow countryman Jose Mourinho would be proud of. Queiroz could do that especially since he doesn’t have too many Iranians playing European football. And one more thing: the big ego coach and total control freak doesn’t hesitate to throw established stars from the team in cases they question his authority.
The most noticeable Iranian playing outside the boarders of his country is striker Sardar Azmoun, who plays for Rubin Kazan in the Russian League and had some eye-catching performances in Champion League matches. At 22, Azmoun is too young for comparisons, but he may follow the footsteps of the legendary Ali Daei, who holds the national team’s records for most caps (149) and goals scored with 109. Daei is the player responsible for Iran’s historical win 2-1 over United States during the 1998 World Cup in France, a win that to date is Iran’s lone in World Cup tournaments.
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