Football

Iran can provide World Cup shock next summer

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Iran cheered on by a young fan (©GettyImages)
Iran cheered on by a young fan (©GettyImages).

Drawing Argentina in a South American World Cup group may be the ultimate nightmare for most national team managers. For Carlos Queiroz's Iran, however, Friday's pairing with Lionel Messi's side might be a blessing in disguise.

Iran qualified convincingly for the tournament, beating South Korea, Qatar, Uzbekistan and Lebanon to top Group A in the fourth round of Asian Qualifying with 16 points. Most impressively, they beat the South Koreans home and away - with just short of 100,000 fans turning out to watch the Persian Stars win in the Tehran fixture.

Since Queiroz's appointment in April 2011 Iran have climbed to 45th in the FIFA World Rankings, a position higher than several sides going to Brazil. Though the FIFA rankings are by no means an exact science, the fact that Iran will face Bosnia & Herzegovina (ranked 21st) and Nigeria (ranked 36th) next summer is certainly encouraging for the squad.

Argentina, up in 3rd place, will surely beat Iran when the pair meet in Belo Horizonte on 21 June, but with the South American giants heavy favourites to claim maximum points there will likely be a three-way fight for second place.

If Iran can get the better of Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina then their loyal and passionate fans can look forward to an extra date in Brazil, most likely against France or Switzerland.

Getting there, though, will need a strong opening performance against Nigeria on 16 June in Curitiba. Nigeria will be tough opposition, having won the African Cup of Nations last February and arriving at the World Cup after an unbeaten qualifying campaign.

But Iran can also boast a successful 2013 after their strong qualifying record of five wins, one draw and just one loss in the calendar year.

A point against Nigeria would certainly not be disastrous and should keep their hopes alive until the final game against Bosnia & Herzegovina.

That final group game on 25 June in Salvador against the Europeans could and probably will decide Iran's fate, as long as they avoid defeat to Nigeria.

Iran have never lost to the Bosnians, having won three times and drawn once in the four matches the pair have ever played, most recently a 5-2 win back in 2006.

Another interesting part of Iran's World Cup story will come when Queiroz names his starting XI for the game against Argentina.

With even his strongest side unlikely to get anything from the game, he could make the controversial decision to rest his best players in between the more crucial Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina matches.

The Portuguese tactician is no stranger to controversy in his role with Iran, having already appointed an American as assistant manager and having fought with his South Korean counterpart, sparking a brawl between the players and staff.

To progress, Iran will need a bit of quality, luck and maybe even some controversy. Who is to say they won't get all three?

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Topics:
World Cup
Football
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