Iran are among Asia’s traditional footballing powerhouses, but can they rock the kasbah and make the knockout stages for the first time?
Nickname(s): Team Melli
Best Finish: Group stage (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014)
How they qualified: Iran became the first Asian team to book their place at the 2018 World Cup by finishing undefeated and top of AFC qualification. Six wins and four draws put Team Melli seven points clear of second-placed South Korea, only conceding twice in their final qualification game once a route to Russia was already assured. Iran’s imposing streak began with a 6-0 victory over Guam in the second round of World Cup qualifying in November 2015, encompassing over 18 hours of football without conceding
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Queiroz needs little introduction considering his enviable coaching CV. Renowned as a scholarly coach, the Portuguese manager has boasted significant achievements at international level, having taken his native Portugal to the FIFA U-20 World Cup title in 1989 and 1991, before coaching the senior national side to the Round of 16 at South Africa 2010. His club experiences include the likes of Manchester United, where he spent two spells as assistant manger, and taking the hot seat with Real Madrid, cementing his place as a world-class manager. The 62-year-old also has notable knowledge of Asian football following spells in charge of Nagoya Grampus Eight and the United Arab Emirates national team.
Key Man: Sardar Azmoun
While Iran’s stingy defense is undoubtedly their biggest strength, there is a young midfielder who can do the business at the other end of the field. Touted as the heir to Iran goalscoring icon Ali Daei, striker Azmoun has enjoyed prolific form for his country since bursting on to the scene at the 2015 Asian Cup. Something of a poster-boy among supporters of Team Melli, the silky-skilled Azmoun plays his club football for Russian side Rubin Kazan.
15 June vs Morocco
20 June vs Spain
25 June vs Portugal