Asian Cup 2015: Iran can spark success by taking risks in attack
Under former Real Madrid boss Carlos Queiroz, Iran defied expectations at the World Cup, so Asian Cup Group C opponents Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates should beware this sleeping giant.
Despite failing to win any of their three group games in Brazil, the Princes of Persia put in a series of inspiring performances that merited much more than their results would suggest.
Against South American elite Argentina, for example, it took some stoppage time magic from Lionel Messi to unlock a stubborn Iranian rearguard, and their canny Portuguese coach will be expecting more of the same in Australia.
Three-time winners of the Asian Cup, Team Melli’s third place finish in 2004 is the closest they have come to regaining the title in recent attempts.
Boasting a squad blessed with real willpower and work ethic, Iran will not struggle for spirit, though they may grapple for match fitness, having only played one warm-up game since their World Cup exploits.
Their most recent outing came against upcoming cup rivals South Korea, but rather than resembling a rusty outfit needing to dust off the cobwebs, Iran dug deep to stun the Taeguk warriors and tournament favourites with a 1-0 win.
Queiroz opted for experience with his World Cup selection, and looks set to trust his veterans yet again.
Unlike many of his Middle Eastern counterparts, the ex-Manchester United assistant coach has a host of expats plying their trade in Europe, or having previously done so, to cherry pick from.
Loyal servants Javad Nekounam and Andranik Teymourian were key to Iran’s hustle, bustle and organisation in Brazil, and the reliable anchormen are expected to be mainstays yet again.
Both now over 30, the pair of midfield stalwarts will be aiming to clinch major silverware with their country.
In particular, skipper and Osasuna star Nekounam, team Melli’s leading scorer in World Cup qualifying, is preparing to represent his nation at the Asian Cup for a fourth, and possibly final, time.
As shown in Brazil, the Princes of Persia will need more than an organised backline and solid midfield base to build from, if they are to be crowned kings of this competition again.
Against South Korea, Iran deployed a 4-2-3-1 system, with former Fulham winger Ashkan Dejagah and NEC starlet Alireza Jahanbakhsh manning the flanks.
With Dejagah, who certainly has the ability to dazzle defences on the continent, seemingly restored to his natural position, a spot may be open to support Charlton Athletic-owned striker Reza Ghoochannejhad.
One man in contention for a starring role in Australia is 19-year-old Rubin Kazan attacker Sardar Azmoun, somewhat hopefully and sensationally dubbed the ‘Iranian Messi’.
That nickname is a lot to live up to, but the talented teenager did attract interest from Italian giants Inter Milan before being snapped up by Russian outfit Rubin.
After impressing by netting the winner against the Taeguk Warriors, Azmoun’s potential inclusion could be the catalyst for Iran’s move from solidity and spirit to a genuine threat up front.
Exciting Azmoun only just missed out on the World Cup squad, meaning that perhaps Queiroz is not ready to throw the young forward into the fray quite yet, however.
The Team Melli manager may have to take a punt on the starlet’s potential, though, if Iran want to be seen as genuine contenders. By combing the composure of Nekounam and co with exuberant Azmoun, Queiroz could have the best of both worlds.