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Sports

World Cup Countdown Special: Everything You Need to Know About Iranian Football

September 13, 2022
Payam Younesipour
7 min read
Carlos Queiroz is back in the driving seat with the Iranian national team ahead of a third consecutive round of the World Cup
Carlos Queiroz is back in the driving seat with the Iranian national team ahead of a third consecutive round of the World Cup
Team Melli will be pitted against the likes of England, Wales and the USA in Group B this November
Team Melli will be pitted against the likes of England, Wales and the USA in Group B this November
As the countdown to kickoff in Qatar begins, in this series we'll give an overview of the history of Iranian football since the 1930s and some of its most legendary players to date
As the countdown to kickoff in Qatar begins, in this series we'll give an overview of the history of Iranian football since the 1930s and some of its most legendary players to date
The Islamic Revolution didn't just drastically alter the political face of Iran, but the landscape of Iranian football
The Islamic Revolution didn't just drastically alter the political face of Iran, but the landscape of Iranian football
The country's recent footballing history has been marked by numerous violations of FIFA rules, including with regard to how women and girls are treated at venues
The country's recent footballing history has been marked by numerous violations of FIFA rules, including with regard to how women and girls are treated at venues
Stars of the current lineup have also just gone through a partial mutiny and the unseating of head coach Dragan Skočić
Stars of the current lineup have also just gone through a partial mutiny and the unseating of head coach Dragan Skočić

The 2022 Qatar World Cup will kick off in just over two months’ time on November 20. This is the last time the world’s biggest football tournament will be held with 32 teams in eight groups of four, and for the third consecutive time, Iran will be among them.

The Iranian national team is in Group B together with England, Wales and the USA. Apart from being the most politically-charged in the contest, it’s also arguably the toughest set of competitors. Iran shone during the qualifiers and is going into the World Cup with a stellar squad you can learn all about below.

But it’s also been a stormy seven months for Team Melli. After Covid, a long period of stalemate at the Iranian Football Federation, internal division and mutiny, and a last-minute change of manager mean that players are still facing a lot of uncertainty ahead of one of the most important contests of their lives.

This 22-part miniseries by our in-house veteran sports reporter is for readers new to the landscape of Iranian football. You can learn about how the beautiful game established itself in Iran, what happened after the Islamic Revolution, the star players likely to be on the pitch in Doha and the challenges that might lie ahead in the countdown to the World Cup.

 

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A Look Back at Iranian Football Before the Revolution

In 1929 Reza Shah, the first king of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran, ordered that a parcel of land in Tehran be turfed over and developed as the country’s first-ever modern football pitch. After that domestic football went from strength to strength.

Click here to read the article.

 

Iranian Football Stars of the 1970s

Team Melli won the Asian Cup three times before the Islamic Revolution, and qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 1978. The next year, the political landscape was turned upside down – and with it the fortunes of the country’s best players, then and now.

Click here to read the article.

 

Iran’s Post-Revolution Boycotts of International Football Games

Iranian football lost almost a decade of opportunities to shine in Asia and on the world stage due to new, hostile policies promoted by Tehran, from the removal of “undesirable” players to global boycotts and an avoidable war.

Click here to read the article.

 

How Iranian Football Became a Security Issue

The securitization of Iranian football has taken place piecemeal over many decades. But the catalyst – or excuse – for some of the country’s biggest clubs falling under the control of the IRGC was a specific incident in 1990, when a key match for Esteghlal FC was cancelled without prior warning.

Click here to read the article.

 

What are Security Forces Doing in Iran’s Stadiums?

Fans of major Iranian clubs Esteghlal, Persepolis, Sepahan and Tractor will be well-acquainted with the takeover of official fan clubs by militants and regime loyalists. From the outside, though, it’s harder to understand.

Click here to read the article.

 

Forty Years of Insults to Women

Women and girls have been banned from entering football stadiums since the Islamic Revolution. Female fans have fearlessly campaigned against sex discrimination at the gates over the years, pushing back against the demands of misogynistic mullahs often without external support.

Click here to read the article.

 

The Trouble With FIFA

Iranian women have mostly been alone in their fight to be included within the fan community in their country. Apart from sending strongly-worded letters FIFA has done nothing to support them, in contradiction of its own charter.

Click here to read the article.

 

The 2010s: A New Golden Age of Iranian Football

The 2010s saw the installation of many well-established foreign coaches at the helm of some of Iran’s biggest football teams. While Carlos Queiroz became head of the national team, the likes of Branko Ivanković, Gabriel Calderon, Zlatko Kranjčar and Georges Leekens took over at the club level.

Click here to read the article.

 

When the Supreme Leader Canned Foreign Coaches

A single speech by Iran’s unelected head of state and Supreme Leader, the powerful cleric Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was enough to put paid to the trend of bringing foreign coaches to Iran. For several years now, football clubs afraid of reprisal have employed only Iranian managers instead – and faced the consequences on the pitch.

Click here to read the article.

 

Carlos Queiroz: The First Eight Years

The Portuguese head coach of Manchester United and Real Madrid fame first led Team Melli from 2011 to 2019, having been invited to Iran by none other than president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His tenure ended with a war of words with Persepolis FC and was marked – as well as numerous successes at the international level – by some strange episodes involving the country’s Football Federation.

Click here to read the article.

 

The Saga of Marc Wilmots’ Contract

In spring 2019 the Belgian coach Marc Wilmots became the new head coach of the Iranian national team. But he resigned that same December citing “serious contractual violations”, initiating a scandal that came to be known as “Wilmotsgate”, costing Iran 6 million euros and throwing the integrity of Federation boss Mehdi Taj into question.

Click here to read the article.

The Rise of Dragan Skočić

Three well-known footballing figures were supposed to be in the running to replace Marc Wilmots as head of the Iranian national team. In the end, though, it was a relatively unknown Croatian coach who was offered the top role. Insiders in Iran had a few suspicions as to why.

Click here to read the article.

 

Ali Daei, Skočić's Outspoken Domestic Rival

By most measures Ali Daei is the most accomplished player in the history of Iranian football. He was one of the three coaches tipped to replace Marc Wilmots, but has a long history of infuriating Iran’s intelligence agencies.

Click here to read the article.

 

Game Over for Dragan Skočić

Despite an impressive run in the World Cup qualifiers and a record 10-game winning streak, the Croatian coach faced criticism at home and a mutiny from some of the players in July. Last week, the world abruptly learned he was out of a job.

Click here to read the article.

 

Getting to Know the Iranian National Team

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Alireza Biranvand, Mehdi Taremi and Amir Abedzadeh are four of the likely stars to be on the Iranian team at the World Cup. These are their stories so far, including early years, professional achievements and public stances to date.

Click the players’ names above to read the articles.

 

Team Melli’s Pre-World Cup Mutiny

In July several players of the Iranian national team joined forces to demand the removal of Dragan Skočić before the World Cup. Two of them went so far as to speak to President Ebrahim Raisi about it. Others, though, backed the Croatian coach, leading to a schism in the ranks.

Click here to read the article.

 

Group B: A Match Made in (Iranian) Broadcasting Hell

Iran is in Group B for the World Cup along with England, Wales and the US. In Iran, where sport is heavily politicized, this means Team Melli is up against two historic “enemies” where relations have been strained for four decades, and at times cut off entirely. This will affect the way matches are covered on Iranian TV.

Click here to read the article.

Does Iran Have a Chance in the World Cup?

Looked at rationally, Group B is probably the hardest to beat in the whole tournament, and Iran’s team is relatively young. But a few major victories this year and at previous World Cups have sparked hope among fans that their team might still have a shot.

Click here to read the article.

 

Factors Weighing Against Iran in the World Cup

This year the Iranian Football Federation went without a president for more than six months. When they did elect a new one, he was a returning controversialist known for grift and backroom deals who immediately fired the head coach. Can Iran’s national team – and returning manager Carlos Queiroz – put aside a trying year ahead of the starting whistle?

Click here to read the article.

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