Tag: FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers

No place for Ahmad Nourollahi in Team Melli, unless…

Title: Amir Ghalenoei’s Firm Stand: Ahmad Nourollahi’s Omission from Team Melli

The AFC Asian Cup 2023 marked the absence of midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi, a notable exclusion from Team Melli’s roster. Despite his recent commendable performances with Al Wehda in the UAE Professional League, Nourollahi found himself sidelined under the helm of coach Amir Ghalenoei.

Nourollahi’s departure from the Team Melli camp during the match against Hong Kong in the preliminary stage of the 2026 World Cup was a breach of discipline that led to his exclusion from Ghalenoei’s final squad. Despite his continued success in the Emirates Club Football League post-Asian Cup, media inquiries persisted regarding his potential reinstatement into Team Melli.

However, Ghalenoei’s response to queries about Nourollahi’s return to the national team was met with a wry smile, indicating that complications still surrounded the midfielder’s potential comeback. The coach’s stance remained steadfast: Nourollahi would only be reconsidered if he publicly and officially apologized to the coaching staff for his actions, demonstrating a commitment to team discipline and cohesion.

Ghalenoei’s unwavering position on Nourollahi’s reinstatement deserves commendation, as it underscores the importance of maintaining discipline within the squad. With enough players already posing potential disciplinary issues, Ghalenoei’s decision serves as a reminder of the standards expected from Team Melli members both on and off the field.

Mohammad Ghorbani to be called to Team Melli

Mohammad Ghorbani, the former Sepahan Esfahan Midfielder who joined FC Orenburg in the Russian Premier League in the winter transfer window is being called to Team Melli.

According to the Russian media, this 22-year-old player has been invited by Amir Ghalenoei to join Team Melli’s squad for the upcoming two matches against Turkmenistan in the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers. Ghorbani will be with his club for the match between “Orenburg” and “Spartak” Moscow in the Cup cup, and then fly to Tehran to join the squad. The Iranian national team will host Turkmenistan in the second round of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers on March 21st, 2024, and will play against the same team in the return match on March 26th.

Ghaleneoi will be announcing the squad in a few days with a focus on new blood to replace his again players.

Uzbekistan Tashkent

A Tale of Two Halves: Uzbekistan vs Iran, FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers

  • The beautiful and unsightly face of Team Melli displayed in the match
  • An opportunity missed by Team Melli due to discipline failure
  • Srečko Katanec proves his quality in Tashkent

Team Melli drew a match in which they were 2 goals ahead against Uzbekistan in the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifier in Tashkent Melliy Stadim. The match ended 2-2 draw, Ramin Rezaeian scoring the first in the 14th minute, while Taremi scored the second in the 37th in a game that was a tale of two contrasting halves.

The first half was dominated by Iran, showcasing a level of football that Team Melli hadn’t displayed in a long time. The team’s intricate passing, solid defending, and tactical discipline were commendable. The midfield was masterfully controlled by the dynamo, Saman Ghoddos, who also provided the assist for Mehdi Taremi’s second goal. The overall free-flowing football was a delight to watch.

Two well-played goals, first by Rezaeian who received a master pass from Sardar Azmoun, and then followed by Taremi doubling the lead in the 37th minute. this time by a perfectly weighted ball from Saman Ghoddis who had lots of credit as he robbed the ball before sending it to Taremi who finished masterfully.

However, the second half painted a completely different picture. It was dominated by Uzbekistan, capitalizing on the disciplinary collapse of Team Melli. The turning point was arguably the injury to the schemer, Saman Ghoddos. His replacement, Ali Karimi, failed to replicate Ghoddos’ impact on the game. The tactical discipline, especially at the back, was missing from Iran’s gameplay, and the two goals conceded were due to defensive coverage failure. The slowness of the defense was quite evident in this half.

Uzbek coach Katenec read the hand of Iran’s Ghalenoei masterfully in the second half. Implementing a pressing tactic and empowering his team with pacy and more effective players, Uzbekistan managed to score twice to settle the game. The match served as a reminder of the unpredictability of football, where fortunes can change in the blink of an eye.

One unfortunate side of Team Melli that we have been used to for years is the discipline. Mehdi Taremi and Ramin Rezaeian were masters in simulation and fake falls to a laughable degree. In particular that dive by Taremi in the box in the first half. The referee opted not to award him a yellow card despite the fact that it was a bookable offense. Another comical fall by Rezaeian on the second was even more laughable! Ghalenoei has yet to enforce his gentlemanly type of football. This is the ugly face of Team Melli that no one wants to see. This team is good enough in many aspects without the need for cheating.

Iran leads the table with four points ahead of Uzbekistan on goal difference.

Uzbekistan to host Team Melli in Tashkent


Tashkent: Uzbekistan will play Iran on Tuesday in a meeting between two sides looking to establish an early advantage in Group E of the Preliminary Joint Qualification – Round 2 for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027™.

Both opened their campaigns with resounding wins on Thursday while Hong Kong, China, and Turkmenistan will square off needing the points. 

Iran, seeking to qualify for a fourth consecutive FIFA World Cup, were in a class of their own against Hong Kong at the Azadi Stadium on Matchday One.

Sardar Azmoun led the way with a brace as Iran staked an early claim on a spot in the next round.

Uzbekistan were equally impressive, defeating Central Asian rivals Turkmenistan away as they started their campaign to make the third round after missing out on the same stage for the 2022 edition. 

Hong Kong will hope home comforts will carry them past Turkmenistan as the East Asian side look to maintain their recent momentum which saw them returning to the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since 1968 and qualifying for the Asian Games semi-finals for the first time.

Turkmenistan, however, will be equally desperate to get points on the board and home advantage may not be enough for Hong Kong. 

Tuesday’s fixtures
Hong Kong, China v Turkmenistan
Venue: Hong Kong Stadium (Hong Kong)
Kick-off: 20:00 (UTC+8)

Uzbekistan v Iran
Venue: Bunyodkor Stadium (Tashkent)
Kick-off: 18:00 (UTC+5)

Players rating and analysis vs. Hong Kong

Despite the four-goal margin and Team Melli’s comfortable win, the display against Hong Kong was far from comfortable or easy on the eyes.

Very little of that type of performance was new to the fans and the same mistakes and shortfalls kept occurring, which seems that these gaps have not been addressed properly. That is despite the claims of Ghalenoei who said “We are learning from our past mistakes.”. Obviously not in the Hong Kong match.

The most ominous issue is the high average age of the players which remains the most serious of problems facing the contenders of the AFC Asian Cup Title. Ghelenoei is living in denial and is adamant that his selection is not old and has no issues with the physicality or pace. In fact, the slow and aging defense is now becoming a major problem as even a team like Hong Kong could trouble the Iranian defenders as witnessed on Thursday.

Other issues:

Midfield lack of creativity: If it wasn’t for the presence of Saman Ghoddos, the so-called midfield would have been non-existent. Ghoddos, was the only player with vision and creativity with the rest being just also-rans, ordinary players.

Team-work: Generally, not pleasant, and if the rumors are true, then a division in the team between two or many factions, seems to affect the overall performance, in particular, Team Work. We hope that these rumors are not true, then again it has to be a matter of strategy and game plan by Ghalenoi and his staff who really need to work on this.

Profligacy: There were far too many wasted chances by all the forward players. Taremi was the biggest culprit as he could have been on a hat trick. Jahanbaksh, Mohebbi, and Ezatollahi were the other three players who wasted very good scoring chances


1 Alireza Beiranvand: Was not troubled much and hardly tested by the Hong Kong forwards. When required, he was comfortable and safely held the ball. [7.0]

3Ehsan Hajisafi: Less prominent than his last three appearances. His forays into attack were limited and did not venture forward much. He held back, no doubt in fear of the pacy Hong Kong counterattacks. Perhaps a wise move. [6.0]

23 Ramin Rezaeian: Continues to shine as a right back which seems to be his own property in Team Melli lately. There was little to fault his play. Scored a beautiful free kick worth winning a match on its own. Defensive work is also sound although not being put under much pressure. [8.4]

4 Shojaa Khalilzadeh: Againg and clearly short of pace. In one scene, the Hong Kong player easily beats him with a shimmy. Shojaa was unable to match his pace so he fouled the opposition player and got a yellow card for his effort. This is not the first time he has fallen into this trap in recent games. Against better teams, he will be really tested and found wanting. [5.8]

13 Hossein Kananizadegan: Quiet and uneventful match for the central defender. His coordination with Khalilzadeh is not at the level that it should be. In the tougher matches that could create gaps. [6.3]

Saeid Ezzatolahi: No matter how hard he tried, he was lost and poor in all aspects of the game. Bad passing, poor tacking, missed a rare scoring opportunity from nearly a meter from the goal line, poor marking, and the list goes on. Ezzatolahi should be nowhere near Team Melli with such form. Much better options are available, only if Ghalenoei opens his eyes and looks around without the blinds and bias [3.6]

14. Saman Ghoddos: Started a game for the first time in a long time and he was brilliant. This is the type of player that Team Melli needs in the middle of the field, intelligent passing, vision, enthusiasm, work rate, and style were all evident in his play. Ghoddos seems to never complete 90 minutes in any game for as long as one remembers. Whatever the problem here, it must be sorted out. Overall, an excellent performance by the Brentford midfielder. [9.0]

 19 Mohammad Mohebi: Another disappointing performance from the Rostov player. A much better standard is expected from him, however, his contribution and assist in the first goal were of high quality. His clash with Taremi in the box when both went for an overhead kick was embarrassing [6.5]

9 Mehdi Taremi: Scored one goal and provided one assist. That was the highlight of an untypical poor performance from a player who the fans expect much from him. Taremi’s body language is far from assuring too. He is just not clicking. It might not be a big worry from Team Melli’s point of view as a competent and sharp Azmoun can finish the work, but Taremi is needed and whatever bothers him needs to be sorted out. Proper counseling from expertise, is always a big boost. His Porto performance this season is at the same poor form too and that might be affecting him in Team Melli. [6.9]

20 Sardar Azmoun: Exellect all over and the MVP of the game. Scored two opportunistic goals with the sharpness and accuracy of a true professional and provided one assist for Taremi’s goal. That earned him the MVP. He could have scored a hattrick but for his unselfishness, he opted to pass to Taremi who was off-side and spoiled a real setter. Azmoun has now scored 49 goals in 74 matches for Team Melli.  [9.2]

7 Alireza Jahanbakhsh: The Feyenoord winger is perhaps in the same boat as Taremi. He continues his poor run for club and country. Really disappointing against Hong Kong and had zero contribution to the goals, His wild shots at goal were a sign of desperation. Got himself injured as well and will be setting the next match vs Uzbekistan out. Lack of confidence, hesitancy, inability to create chances for the forwards, and many more shortfalls marred his game against Hong Kong and reminds one of a similar performance against Jordan.  [4.5]


Mehdi Torabi: Replaced Mohebbi in the 70th minute.Had a rather quiet game and an uneventful 20 minutes. [6.0]

Omid Ebrahimi: Replaced Saman Ghoddos in the 70th minute. There was no obvious reason for such a substitution as Ghoddos was doing an excellent job in the middle of the field. Ebrahimi, now 37 years old, lacks much of his old pace and frankly, he is not suited to play at the international level. But it seems that he has the vote of Ghalenoei.[5.8]

Reza Asadi: Took Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s place in the 74th minute and he soon faded in the match. Did not see much action in the 16 minutes he was on the field. [5.0]

Karim Nsarifard and Javad Hosseinnejad had cameo appearances and were not rated.

Coach: Amir Ghalenoei: His attitude toward rejuvenating the team and his insistence on older and slower players has lowered his worth amongst the fans and pundits alike. In this match, the introduction of a 37-year-old player at the twilight of his career while a 20-year-old player with a bright future was available, was an act of absurdity and silliness. Ghalenoei was not pleased with his players’ profligacy. The TV cameras caught him shouting quite angrily at his player. He has yet to forge his tactical ideas on this group. Team Melli is not firing on all cylinders, and he needs to act. [5.5] 

Alireza Jahanbakhsh is out due to injury.

There was some bad news for Team Melli winger, Alireza Jahanbakhsh following the match against Hong Kong on Thursday.

After a loose ball clash, Jahanbakhsh was visibly in pain due to a leg injury and was subsequently substituted, In the post-match therapy, the Feyenoord winger was withdrawn from Team Melli camp and will proceed to the Netherlands to continue the diagnosis and treatment.
The media department of Team Melli, Dr. Prahan Khanleri, the Chief Medical Officer of the team, said that Alireza Jahanbakhsh has suffered a slight hamstring injury during last night’s match against Hong Kong, and accordingly, for treatment of this injury, he has to be out of action for at least two weeks rest period. He added: With the decision made, Jahanbakhsh will leave for Holland on Sunday to treat his injury, so it is not possible for this player to join the group for the match against Uzbekistan.
Team Melli defeated Hong Kong 4-0 in the first match of the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers on Thursday evening.

Winning start for Team Melli in World Cup qualifiers.

Team Melli defeated Hong Kong 4-0 in Azadi on Thursday evening in the first match of FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers. Sardar Amoun scored two goals while Mehdi Taremi and Ramin Rezaeian scored the other two.

Despite the good margin of victory against a lowly Hong Kong ranked 150th in the world, Team Melli was far from convincing and at times even embarrassing. The two late goals in the second half added some respectability to the result but that should not hide the fact that Ghalenoei has a lot of work to do to build a respectable team for the World Cup in 3 years’ time. Although Iran is one of the favorite for the AFC Asian Cup, such performance with an aging team puts a lot of question marks on this claim.

Iran started positively and through a good assist by Mohebbi courtesy of Capt. Hajsafi’s perseverance, Azmoun cooly slotted the ball into the net in the 12th minute. Two minutes later, Azmoun struck again from a similar situation from a Mehdi Taremi pass into the box. After that, thinking that the Hong Kong floodgate has opened the players started show acting to entertain the small crowd in Azadi. This showtime act, was at times quite embarrassing to watch. Mohebbi and Taremi both went for the same ball on the 6-yard line, both going for overhead kick, resulting in Taremi’s boot whacking Mohebbi;s head with the ball nowhere to be seen.

Wrong passes, uncoordinated moves, lethargy and taking it easy marred the rest of the half for Iran. Hong Kong on the other hand managed to close the path of Team Melli player with numbers and pressing tactics.

In the second half , it was Hong Kong who were determined to score and nearly managed that. Iran’s defense held tight and managed to survive until two late goals sealed the match for the home team.

This is the 9th victory for Amir Ghalenoei, a record that would be the envy of any coach in the world. It is also Ghalenoei’s first win in an official match, however, this team and Ghalenoi himself is far from convincing. His stubbornness in using older players like Omid Ebrahimi (37 years) and Karim Ansarifard (34 years) , is a serious setback for Iran’s football and Team Melli and such pig-headed attitude will come back and haunt him.

Despite what he said yesterday in his pre-match press conference about learning from mistakes, it is doubtful that he seriously means it. This current team may beat the likes of Angola, Hong Kong, Jordan all teams ranked below Team Melli, but the real test will come soon, in fact in 5 days from now when Iran faces the much-improved Uzbekistan in Tashkent.

Man of the Match: Sardar Azmoun.

World Cup qualifiers starts for Team Melli.

Preview – Group E: Turkmenistan v Uzbekistan; IR Iran v Hong Kong, China

Tehran: Iran are the clear favourites to advance from Group E of the Preliminary Joint Qualification – Round 2 for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027™.
Iran, seeking to qualify for a fourth consecutive FIFA World Cup, face Hong Kong, China on Thursday with Turkmenistan hosting Uzbekistan.
Iran’s array of stars means Hong Kong will face a stern test of their credentials at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran.

Having suffered heartbreak at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Iran will be determined to qualify for the 2026 edition after having failed to advance from the group stage in all their previous six appearances at the global showpiece.

Hong Kong, however, will not be lacking in confidence after having sealed a return to the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since 1968 and having advanced to the semi-finals of the Asian Games for the first time in the recent Hangzhou edition.

Turkmenistan, the only team in the group not heading to the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, will be fired up to erase that disappointment by enjoying a good run in the Preliminary Joint Qualification.

Uzbekistan will be familiar foes, with their Central Asian rivals on a mission to advance to the third round after missing out in 2022.

Thursday’s fixtures
Turkmenistan v Uzbekistan
Venue: Ashgabat Stadium (Ashgabat)
Kick-off: 19:00 (UTC+4)

IR Iran v Hong Kong, China
Venue: Azadi Stadium (Tehran)
Kick-off: 18:00 (UTC+3:30)

AFC qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2026

The seeding for FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers in Asia have been determined.

After winning the title of CAFA Nations Cup 2023, Team Melli would be busy preparing for the AFC Asian Cup and the next round of World Cup qualifiers. Iran will not be involved in Round 1 of the qualifiers but will start its games in Round 2.

The qualifiers starting in 2023 will be a marathon of matches in a similar pattern to the previous edition of the World Cup in Qatar.

The FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers will start in the Asian continent on Thursday, October 12. In the first round, 22 AFC teams from the lowest FIFA ranking will take part, with 11 of them will advance to the group round.

The second round of the qualifiers will see Iran’s presence. Team Melli is currently ranked second in Asia after Japan. The AFC second round of 2026 FIFA World Cup qualification, which also serves as the second round of 2027 AFC Asian Cup qualification, is expected to be played from 16 November 2023 to 11 June 2024

A total of thirty-six teams will be drawn into nine groups of four to play home-and-away round-robin matches. They include the twenty-five teams (teams ranked 1–25 in the AFC entrant list) which received byes to this round and the eleven winners from the first round.

Eighteen group winners and runners-up advance to the third round and qualify for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup. The third and fourth-place teams will advance to the third round of the 2027 Asian Cup qualification.


The 11 teams that advanced from Round 1, along with the top 25 teams in Asia, form a total of 36 teams that must be placed in 9 four-team groups. The classification of this round of competitions is as follows:

Seed 1: Japan – Iran – Australia – South Korea – Saudi Arabia – Qatar – Emirates – Iraq – Oman

Seed 2: Uzbekistan – China – Jordan – Bahrain – Syria – Vietnam – Palestine – Kyrgyzstan – India

Seed 3: Lebanon – Tajikistan – Thailand – North Korea – Philippines – Malaysia – Turkmenistan – Kuwait – Hong Kong

The top two teams from each group will advance to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers in the Asian continent and the third and fourth teams of the group are also eliminated.


The schedule is expected to be as follows, according to the FIFA International Match Calendar.

Matchday 116 November 2023
Matchday 221 November 2023
Matchday 321 March 2024
Matchday 426 March 2024
Matchday 56 June 2024
Matchday 611 June 2024