Iran’s match against China on Tuesday will be a real test for the newish look Team Melli after their fine display against Qatar in Doha which ended in a 1-0 win scored by Mehdi Taremi. In retrospect, it was not an impossible task in Doha and the win was achieved with certain level of comfort unlike the match in Azadi at the beginning of the competition.
Mehdi Taremi was one of 3 up front strikers in what look a sweet adventure by Carlos Queiroz. Team Melli has reached this status, undefeated, top of the table and not conceding a single goal in the competition yet, as the result of Queiroz philosophy of tight & solid defense. A solid back , be it three or four , has served Queiroz well and his omission of Seyed Jalal Hosseini , the most expected and senior player in the squad , but who is also performing quite awfully for his club, proved how much importance Queiroz puts on reliable, steadfast and consistent defenders. Pouraliganji replaced Hosseini at the heart of the defence and he hardly put a foot wrong. It was a clever move by Queiroz who must have considered Pouraliganji’s familiarity with the Qatar players as an added advantage on top of his excellent form.
Queiroz was rewarded for it.
The midfield was another spot of worry since the regulars were all missing. Ashkan Dejagah & Ando Teymourian have not even made the list, while the squad was lacking strength in depth in the defensive midfield area.
However, Saeid Ezatollahie , a young an upcoming player, Ehsan Hajsafy, already a veteran at 27 years only and Ali Reza Jahanbakhsh created a solid trio in the center of the field and excelled in both their offensive and defensive duties. The midfield, maintaining a pace of the match that suited Team Melli tactics, creating lots of opportunities for the forwards, helping out in defense, and finally controlling the match with time ticking away, was a major factor in this victory.
In the forward line, Carlos Queiroz is spoiled for choices and every single one of them in addition to the benched Reza Ghoochannejad had excellent season with their respective clubs. The dilemma with Queiroz was which one to pick. Granted, the forwards missed many chances to kill the game as early as the 60th minute, but their performance and contribution to backing the midfield during oppositions attacks, was a delight to watch.
Now about the goalkeeper. Team Melli have not been successful with keepers after the era of the AhmedReza Abedzadeh. Young Biranvand has certainly some potential, but there are some mentality and behavior issues with this keeper. His petulant acts is a source of concern, in the match against Qatar, it earned him a yellow card, but more serious than these juvenile roleplays , is his tendency to get his choices wrong while jumping for crosses or when he needs to save a shot. He needs a lot of growing up and some real good coaching on his timing and when to use his fists rather than the palm of the hands.
Overall , it was an excellent performance by Team Melli.
China seems to experiencing a revival of their own as their narrow but valuable win against their perennial rivals South Korea proved. will be a good test for Team Melli. Last time round in China, the home team frustrated Team Melli and closed the roads to their goalkeeper very well. The style of play has improved under Marcello Lippi and the Chinese seem to play a better game, more confidence and with some superb passing moves. The style is more of ground passing and less dependence on aerials. The Chinese forwards are perhaps not so effective in finishing and there are a few question marks about their defense marking, but the team looks much more solid and capable of beating any opposition.
The predication for this encounter is difficult, suffice to say it will be tight and difficult affair.
Azadi passionate crowd will have a major role to play. The vociferous and enthusiastic support will assist in gaining all the three more points of the match. This might not translate in early celebrations for Team Melli as that fate will be delayed until this summer. Direct qualification will only be known after the game with Uzbekistan on 12th June, if that.