Football, Group B, Iran, Russia 2018, Sport, World Cup preview

Iran 2018 Fifa World Cup team guide: tactics, key players and expert predictions

Carlos Queiroz may play a more gung-ho style than in Brazil thanks to the emergence of many in-form attackers, but there are still question marks in defence

For the very first time Iran will participate in two consecutive World Cups and, after a relatively acceptable performance at Brazil 2014, Team Melli are in search of a bigger dream in Russia.

“Iran have come on a lot,” said the coach, Carlos Queiroz, recently. “With the experience of Brazil 2014 under our belts and with several players having since moved to Europe, we’ve become more solid and competitive. We want to get through to the second round, but that is obviously going to be a very difficult task.”

Four years ago, Queiroz’s side played reactive football, based on a deep defensive line and quick counter-attacks in a 4-2-3-1 formation but, to get through to the knockout round, Iran need a more attacking style and have shown it in recent friendlies in a 4-1-4-1.

Iran have more in-form strikers than four years ago and it could help Queiroz with his tactical plans. In addition to Sardar Azmoun, who is returning to the form that drew the attention of many clubs in Europe, Alireza Jahanbakhsh became the Eredivisie’s top goal scorer, Karim Ansarifard second top scorer in Greece, Kaveh Rezaei among the top scorers in Belgium and Saman Ghoddos had a brilliant season with Ostersunds.

But in other areas, the Portuguese manager has real concerns. His first choice defensive midfielder Saeed Ezatolahi is suspended for the crucial match against Morocco and he is searching for a replacement for him but it seems none of the other options have convinced him fully.

Another major concern for Queiroz is in central defence. In recent years Morteza Pouraliganji and Jalal Hosseini have been the trusted centre-backs but it seems that Queiroz would prefer to deploy another defender alongside Pouraliganji at the World Cup. At left-back, Milad Mohammadi knows his place is guaranteed but on the right side, Voria Ghafouri and Ramin Rezaeian compete to cement their place in the starting XI.

Alireza Beiranvand, with his 12 clean sheets in qualifying, is Team Melli’s No 1 goalkeeper but his stuttering form this season has been a little worrying. However, Queiroz’s main concern in recent months was the physical preparation of his players in Iran and he spoke about it in several interviews. “Our Iran-based players are not ready at all and they need 40-day-preparation to develop to the World Cup level,” he said.

Queiroz is always difficult to second-guess, often changing his lineup as he tries to deploy the most in-form players. His starting XI is never predictable.

Probable line up (4-2-3-1 ): Alireza Beiranvand; Milad Mohammadi, Morteza Pouraliganji, Pejman Montazeri, Ramin Rezaeian; Saeed Ezzatollahi, Ehsan Hajsafi, Masoud Shojaei; Mehdi Taremi, Alireza Jahanbakhsh; Sardar Azmoun

Which player is going to surprise everyone at the 2018 World Cup?

Mehdi Taremi. Despite of his off-field controversies, he is a unique talent, with great ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and his team-mates. For many, Sardar Azmoun or Alireza Jahanbakhsh are Iran’s star players but Taremi could be Queiroz’s hidden weapon.

Which player is likely to disappoint?

Ramin Rezaeian. He moved to the Belgian league to cement his place in Iran’s starting lineup but he has had a disappointing season. He doesn’t have a strong character and if he is trusted to start, he may be a flop.

What is the realistic aim for Iran at the World Cup and why?

Iran’s realistic aim is getting one or two points in the group stage. A draw against Morocco – and maybe Portugal – and a narrow loss against Spain. Even these results would mean elimination but that would be acceptable for Iran fans.