3229: World Cup Group D Preview: Ira
by : Alex Wolstenholme
Qualifying: Iran eased past Jordan, Laos and Qatar in their first group stage and despite finishing behind Japan in the next phase were comfortable qualifiers from the Asian section.
History: This is Iran’s third World Cup. Although they have failed to get past the group stage on both previous occasions they have always had something to cheer.
In 1978 it was a 1-1 draw against Scotland and twenty years later there was a never to be forgotten 2-1 win over the USA, an important victory both for on and off-field reasons.
Group opponents: Iran kick off their campaign against Mexico in what may well turn out to be a crucial game in the battle to finish second behind Portugal in Group D.
Iran then face group favourites Portugal before finishing up against World Cup first-timers Angola.
Coach: Croatian Branko Ivankovic took over from fellow countryman Miroslav Blazevic after Iran were beaten in a qualifying play-off by the Republic of Ireland in 2002 and led his side to third place in the 2004 Asian Cup as well as guiding them through qualifying for Germany 2006 comfortably.
He believes that Iran can reach the second round, saying: "I'm completely aware of the tough job we have in Germany but I have enough reliable players."
Players: A number of the side are either current Bundesliga players or have had spells with German clubs, including 2004 Asian player of the year Ali Karimi and Iranian legend Ali Daei, current and former Bayern Munich stars.
That, together with a large ex-pat population in Germany should ensure them of plenty of support although there have been calls from some German MP’s for Iran to be banned from the tournament after remarks made by the country’s Prime Minister.
Daei’s inclusion in the squad has also not been without its critics. Now playing for Saba Battery back in his homeland, the striker is 37-years-old.
Tournament prospects: Second place in the group is a possibility if Iran can avoid defeat against Mexico in the first game.
Iran impressed in their recent friendly against Croatia and their top players will be comfortable playing in Europe, and Germany in particular.