A grand performance by the boys deserving of champion.

The win against a Japanese team, which has dominated Iran for many years including that bitter defeat in Ali Ain in the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup 2019, was a big relief in all senses.

In the best performances of Team Melli in Asian Cup so far, Mohebbi and Jahanbaksh scored, but the credit goes to every single player in the team. Those players stood up to their biggest challenge and came out as winners.

Credit has to go to Aradeshir ‘Amir’ Ghalenoei, the head coach who had to arrange a makeshift team due to the suspension of Taremi, injury to Majid Hosseini and Sadegh Moharrami. In a masterstroke, Ghalenoei played Milad Mohammadi instead of the Captain and much more experienced Ehsan Hajsafi, He supplemented the defensive midfield role by playing Omid Ebrahimi to support Ezatollahi and finally, he used the stronger Mohebbi instead of Ghayedi on the flanks.

It was indeed a gamble that worked very well. The return of Kananizadegan stabilized the central defense. Ramin and Milad Mohammadi on the wings were a source of headaches for the Japanese.

Sardar Azmoun was majestic. Top-notch performance, powerful in attack, visionary, individual skills, and provider of the gem of pass to assist Mohebbi’s goal. Azmoun played one of his best matches for a long time. He should have been awarded that wonderful goal, except for VAR which declared him offside by a millimeter.

Beiranvand was never really tested because of the solid defense protecting him, and the goal he conceded was a touch of fortune for the Japanese. Mohebbi exceeded expectations. His constant runs, hustle, and physicality were marvelous. His finishing from the Azmoun pass was a touch of class.

Even Ezatollahi upgraded his performance in this match.

And what about the warrior Omid Ebrahimi? He was all over the pitch, tackling, shooting, and hustling as if he was 20 years old. Perhaps one of his best games in the long career with Team Melli.

It is difficult to pick up the MVP of this match, but Saman Ghoddos and Sardar Azmoun are the closest to the title. Ghoddos was inspirational. His Vision, tact, skills, and determination were the qualities that a player needed to challenge the top team in Asia. He was never intimidated by the quick and pacey Japanese. Hardly put a foot wrong.

And Finally to Alireza Jahanbaksh. The Captain and the man who was assigned the heavy responsibility to take the penalty kick in the last moments of the game. The psychological pressure was immense not just in front of the capacity crowd but with 88 million Iranians watching.

He took the penalty in a style appropriate for the Captain of the team.

Now, comes the more difficult task, not necessarily technical or tactical but emotional and psychological. The players need to be back on the ground treat the next opponent with respect and play the best football that they have proved they are capable of.

Sun reporter told to wear hijab to interview Iran’s football team… in Austria

Stunned Isabelle Barker was told she could only speak to the international squad players and manager Carlos Queiroz if her hair was covered.

Stunned Isabelle Barker was told she could only speak to the international squad players and manager Carlos Queiroz if her hair was covered

Furious Isabelle considered staging a one-woman protest outside the team’s hotel in Vienna but, like a true professional, got on with her job. The hijab demand came from the squad’s security staff ahead of a press conference at the hotel yesterday, the day after Iran beat Uruguay 1-0 in a friendly.

Public protests have been taking place in Iran after police allegedly beat a woman to death for wearing a headscarf the wrong way.

Isabelle said she tried to buy a hijab after the order but the shops had shut so she made one from a T-shirt. She said of the ultimatum: “I couldn’t believe what was being asked of me and I even thought about staging my own protest. But I had a job to do so my only real option was to comply.”

England play Iran in their World Cup opener in Qatar on November 21.

Isabelle stressed that the hijab order had not come from the team’s press officer, former Man United coach Queiroz or any of the players, who include Omid Ebrahimi, “all of whom were friendly and cooperative”.

The Iranian Football Federation had earlier barred all media from reporting on ­Friday’s game before making a U-turn. Tensions ignited during the match when two fans were ejected from the NV Arena for unveiling an anti-Iran sign.

Team Melli Squad: Who is going to make it to Qatar?

No doubt that the Croat Head Coach of Team Melli is experiencing the busiest and the most important days of his coaching career as he prepares the list of passengers to Doha comes November of this year.

Skocic has only one window and that is FIFA Day in September to decide his final list probably after the Uruguay and Senegal matches.  While some of the players automatically have reserved their names on board the flight to Qatar others who played in the qualification might not be so assured of a place.

In this article, we will discuss individual players’ chances and any reasons that the coaching team might find crucial to include the player while discussing the reasons why some are dispensable. Like always, not every justification for selection or not is pure football related. Other factors always weigh in and in a country like Iran with political and social sensitivity, the reasons for exclusion are aplenty.


  1. Alireza Beiranvand: His inclusion will all depend on his club form with Persepolis and whether Golmohammadi picks him to be his number one in Persepolis. His shaky foreign adventure does not augur well for inclusion in the World Cup squad. His work in Iran will determine his incusion  50%
  2. Amir ABEDZADEH: Despite one or two errors, Abdezadeh remains as the number one keeper. His good start in Spain should enhance his chances too. 80%
  3. Hossein Hosseini: Lacks consistency with a standard that can vary between the brilliance to the ridiculous clumsy. However, he remains a contender for the squad. 55%
  4. Payam Niazmand: A young goalkeeper who did not have a syuccesful trial in Europe and his short stint ended as he is back with Sepahan. Like Beiranvand, he really needs to excel to convince Skocic of his worth. 45%


  1. Aref AGHASI: Steady defender who defends with confidence. Lacks international exposure which is quite important for the World Cup. He has however many challengers for his post in Team Melli 45%
  2. Aref GHOLAMI: Similar to  Aghasi’s case with little international experience. He is a solid defender that can be a competent replacement when needed. 45%
  3. Danial ESMAEILIFAR: Although made his debut for Team Melli at a late age, his strong showing in last season’s league convinced the selectors of his value. The World Cup might be too difficult of a target for him. 35%
  4. Ehsan HAJSAFI: The long-serving versatile player has been ever present for Team Melli. However, as time passes and circumstances change Hajisafi’s chances of making his 3rd World Cup in a row is quite dim. Not only he is in the rebel group, but he has also been utilized less and less in recent matches.  It is difficult to see him included in the last 26 players list. 45%
  5. Hossein KANANI-ZADEGAN: Despite his off-the-field antics, which put him in trouble with the authorities, he remains a strong defender and reliable player for the team. His chances are enhanced with his good performance in the new season in Qatar. 85%
  6. Majid HOSSEINI: Improving with age and experience gained in the Turkish League. He might not be a fixed player in the lineup but quite an important bench that Skocic can call upon in case of injury to any of his defenders. 75% 
  7. Mehdi MEHDIPOUR: A good utility player that has impressed with his club. As a newcomer, he has little exposure at the international level so it is quite possible that he will not be on the list. 48%
  8. Milad MOHAMMADI: Perhaps the left-back did not have the best of time in the Greek League but he is still a solid defender with a pace that is important when facing the like of England. 75%
  9. Morteza Pouralganji: Has been absent for a long time due to injury. His return back to Iran from the Chinese league will only serve to enhance his chances for inclusion on the list. 67#
  10. Omid NOORAFKAN: One of the players who has solidified his place in the squad. Has performed strongly and remains one of the best players for his club Sepahan. 85%
  11. Sadegh MOHARRAMI: Limited time with Dynamo Zagreb but Moharrami has qualities that are needed for the team. His weaknesses could be troublesome but in the end, he remains a determined and highly motivated player. 78%
  12. Saleh HARDANI: The right-back is one of the players that have a great future. In the style of Kaebi, he has pace and agility that can surprise the opposition. His selection depends on the number of defenders Skocic needs in the squad. 55%
  13. Shojaa KHALILZADEH: One of the key players but injury prone. Not enjoying the start of the news season as his team is right at the bottom of the league in Qatar. His value for Team Melli though is undeniable. 80%


  1. Ahmad NOUROLLAHI: One player that keeps improving and should be in the squad without much doubt. He has enough experience to face the big teams in the World Cup 80%
  2. Ali GHOLIZADEH: Tacticsl, nifty and skillful dribbler. The qualities that are needed to break defenses. Has a tendency to disappear from the action at times in some games, but still a classy player 80%
  3. Alireza JAHANBAKHSH: has been nothing but disappointment in Europe, although his Team Melli games have not suffered. As one of the rebels, he might end up missing the World Cup, but Skocic will miss his experiences in case he is overlooked. 55%
  4. Mehdi Torabi: A player with so much promise but has not achieved his potential yet. He remains a fringe player in team Melli but also a player that enriches the bench. 60%
  5. Milad SARLAK: Good and solid midfielder who has not disappointed when he was asked to play for the Team. The only problem for selection remains the numbers that the selectors will decide for each of the lines. 45%
  6. Omid EBRAHIMI: A player that has been recently recalled to Team Melli after being overlooked. His undoubted skills, work rate, and dynamics are a delight to see and something that coaches always welcome from a player. 75%
  7. Ramin REZAEIAN: Another player that has been ignored mostly due to disciplinary issues. He has started very well with Sepahan and has shown much of his skills and abilities during the start of the season. A  strong contender for a place in Doha. 60%
  8. Saeid EZZATOLLAHI :  Another of the disappointing players who never achieved stability. Keeps changing clubs every season. His standard has been affected and shows a lack of consistency during the games, He does however has a physical presence that is quite useful at the International level. 40%
  9. Saman GHODDOS: A bench player for his club. Never achieved the grade with two seasons in the English Premiere league. Little Match time to check his standards 45&
  10. Soroush RAFIEI: The player is making a strong case for his inclusion. He is on the brink and stands a fair chance. 50%
  11. Vahid AMIRI: One of the key players for Team Melli. Suffered a long injury and has not played yet for Persepolis in the League. The progress of his injury is sketchy. He might not recover in time for inclusion but if he is fit and goes through the tough training then Amiri is a must for Team Melli. 70%
  12. Yasin SALMANI: This young player and leader is the talk of the town in Iran football. He has yet to make his debut for Team Melli but has played and captained the Omid team. Lack of international experience is his only weakness. Despite that, his chances are better than fair to be on the list. 57%


  1. Ali ALIPOUR: A player that is making a good case to be included in the squad. He started the season with a winning goal and if he continues his good form, it will force the selectors to include him. 50%
  2. Allahyar SAYYADMANESH: Another of the young guns that lay a claim for inclusion in the list. He has not been playing well at the start of the season for his club and that might put his chances in jeopardy. 55%
  3. Amir Hossein HOSSEINZADEH: Yet another young talent. The same rules and limitations apply here too. Simply lack of international exposure rather than anything else. 53% 
  4. Karim ANSARIFARD: A player that has failed to impress for many seasons now. Apqrt fpor cameo apperances for Team Melli, he is also unwanted by his club who are desperate to get rid of him. He did not endear himself to the head coach either being in the rebel group of players. 40%
  5. Kaveh Rezaei: Recently moved back to the Iranian league. Due to administrative issues, he is not yet registered to play and hence did not play yet. Difficult to see him on the plane unless he makes it good in the league this season. 40%
  6. Mehdi GHAEDI: Back with Esteghlal and strongly too. Ghaedi cannot be a starter for Team Melli for many reasons but specifically his weak physique. But as a substitute, he can be useful if he can stand the tackles of the English and Welsh players in particular. 68%
  7. Mehdi TAREMI: If there is any doubt about this player, it is his demeanor and attitude. He led the rebellion against Skocic and was outspoken about it. To be fair, that should exclude him from Team Melli automatically as he will be a disruptive element in the team that requires unity and harmony. It all depends on how SKocic will approach this big problem and whether Taremi maintains respect for the coach, especially behind his back. His chances for inclusion are neutral because of his attitude, else he is a key player on the field. 51%
  8. Mehrdad MOHAMMADI: Despite a good start for his team in Qatar, he has struggled lately in a league that demands a lot from foreigners. 45%
  9. Sardar AZMOUN: A key player and indespensible. He has been having off-the-field problems lately that have surely affected his concentration. Azmoun remains one of the best Team Melli players and a player that has scored crucial goals. 90%

We have picked 26 players that have the best chance of making it to the World Cup. We have excluded players such as Ansarifard, Hajsafim Ezatollahi, and Saman Ghoddos. The last word and decision are of course with Dragan Skocic and his coaching staff. There will no doubt be some developments,  circumstances, changes in priorities, and the usual interferences that will affect the issue. We believe that the biggest hurdle that Skocic needs to tackle is to regain the player’s confidence and minimize or completely bypass the disruptive elements. That is easier said than done. How he manages the rebels if and only if he decides to select them is crucial for Team Melli. chances

World Cup i is an arena where Men rather than boys perform and show their worth. The emphasis must be on the unity of the Team and everyone playing for Iran and the fans not to promote themselves and their interests.,

Squad announced for June training camp

Dragan Skocic invited 25 players to the upcoming training camp starting next Monday.

Team Melli will start the training in Tehran and then move over to Istanbul before flying to Canada in preparation for the friendly international with the host country in Vancouver.  A second match was planned but never materialized.

With the injured players such as Ghoddos, Khalilzadeh, Amiri, and Pouraliganji not available for selection, Skocic added the name of two former members of Team Melli to the list, Omid Ebrahim and Ali Alipour. Notable absentees due to loss of form mean the exclusion of Mehdi Ghaedi and Kaveh Rezaei from the list.


Team Melli Captain Karim Ansarifard and the current AEK Athens player is the major absentee from this camp and will not accompany the national team for a long time. While the current situation requires players to secure their place in the World Cup final list by performing well with their clubs and attending training regularly, Karim was severely injured in a freak accident in the national team’s previous camp on Nowruz 1401, during a birthday party when a cake was pounded on his face, Due to that eyes injury, he also missed the game against Lebanon. As a result, he was away from training for a while and on his return, he had to conduct his training with goggles. Since his injury, Ansarifard has not played in any of his team’s matches and usually plays for a few minutes, and has now lost his place in Team Melli

Skocic has replaced  Ansarifard with Ali Alipour so that the forward who plays in the Portuguese league with Gil Vicente can finally recover after a three-year absence from the national team and may be able to improve the national team’s offensive line.


No. Pos. Player Date of birth  Age Caps Goals Club
GK Alireza Beiranvand 12-Sep-1992   29 50 0
 Royal Antwerp
GK Hossein Hosseini 30- May-1992   29 4 0
GK Amir Abedzadeh 26 -Apr-1993   29 9 0
DF Sadegh Moharrami 24 -Mar-1996   26 18 0
 Dinamo Zagreb
DF Aref Gholami 23-Apr-1997   25 1 0
DF Milad Mohammadi 29-Sep-1993   28 45 1
 AEK Athens
DF Hossein Kanaanizadegan 23-Mar-1994   28 32 2
DF Saleh Hardani 14-Sep-1998   23 2 0
DF Majid Hosseini 20-Jun-1996   25 16 0
DF Omid Noorafkan 09-Apr-1997   25 12 0
DF Aref Aghasi 02-Jan-1997   25 0 0
MF Ehsan Hajsafi (Captain) 25-Feb-1990   32 118 7
 AEK Athens
MF Saeid Ezatolahi 01-Oct-1996   25 44 1
MF Alireza Jahanbakhsh 11-Aug-1993   28 61 12
MF Ahmad Nourollahi 02-Jan-1993   29 23 3
 Shabab Al-Ahli
MF Milad Sarlak 26-Mar-1995   27 8 0
MF Omid Ebrahimi 15-Sep-1987   34 52 0
MF Amirhossein Hosseinzadeh 30-Oct-2000   21 2 0
MF Mehdi Torabi 10-Sep-1994   27 34 6
MF Ali Gholizadeh 10 -Mar-1996   26 23 6
MF Mehdi Mehdipour 18-Feb-1994   28 2 0
FW Mehdi Taremi 18-Jul-1992   29 57 27
FW Sardar Azmoun 01-Jan-1995   27 62 40
 Bayer Leverkusen
FW Ali Alipour 11-Nov-1995   26 3 0
 Gil Vicente
FW Allahyar Sayyadmanesh 29-Jun-2001   20 6 1
 Hull City


Team Melli defeated Syria 3-0 in an international friendly held in Azadi Stadium on Tuesday. Iran scored through Hossein Kanan-Zadegan, Sardar Azmouin, and Karim Ansarifard. The first half ended 2-0

Team Melli scored early in the first minute from a corner played by Ali Gholiszadeh. Central defender Hossein Kanano-Zadegan hit a ferocious header into the top of the Syrian net to open the scoring for Iran. Soon Iran took control of the play and could have easily doubled the scoreline. However, a lazy play by Azmoun who only had the diving Syrian keeper in front wasted a golden chance. After that miss by Azmoun, Syria slowly but surely took control of the game. Their midfield was more energetic than Iran and seem to have pace in the front line. The Iranian defense was solid however and only a brilliant save by Alireza Beiranvand, prevented Syria from scoring.

Although Beiravand’s one-hand save was brilliant and an eye-candy, his assist for the second goal was an absolute gem. After catching the ball on the edge of his box and with a Syrian player budging him, Beiravand noticed Taremi free in the Syrian half. His world-class hand throws reached Porto’s defender who took the ball nicely towards the Syrian goalkeeper. Ibrahim Alma saved with his extended legs only for the ball to rebound for the onrushing Azmoun who made no mistake with and slotted the ball into the net.

The second half saw a more balanced game between the two teams. Despite gallant efforts by the Syrians, they did not manage to seriously threaten Beiranvand until late in the game when their best attacker Mahmood Al Mawas hit a thunderous shot against the bar the resulting in the ball ricochet into play and cleared by the defenders.

On the hours and as usual, both teams saw many substitutions. The Team Melli midfield was strengthened by the introduction of Omid Ebrahimi. in the 81st minute, Karim Ansarifard scored a brilliant third goal as he got the ball and in one swift Shimmy send two of his markers the wrong way opening the goal for him. His powerful shot was beyond Syrian keeper Ibrahim Alma as he was beaten comprehensively by Karim’s cracker. 3-0 for Iran.

Team Melli introduced two new debutants in this match. Jafar Salmani was the right-back, while Abofazl Jalali was substituted in the left-back position. Both played quite well as it was a successful introduction and should create very tough competition for the senior players.

The only concern in Iran’s lineup must be the midfield. Until the mid-second half, the Iranian midfield players (Hajsafy, Nourallahi , Amiri, and Gholizadej did not create enough chances for the two potent and dangerous forwards of Team Melli. One goal came from a corner and one from an assist by goalkeeper Beiranvand. That is not good enough for a team looking to qualify in a tough World Cup qualifiers group.

Skocic monitors Team Melli players in Belgium

Dragan Skocic headed to Europe for a close look at the Iranian legionaries players. The recently appointed head coach of Team Melli will be attending several matches involving the Iranian players.

This trip to Belgium by Skocic follows his attending of matches of Esteghlal and Persepolis matches in Kuwait and the Emirates in the AFC Champions League last week. Belgium is one of the countries with the most Iranian players in its league. Omid Ebrahimi and Saeed Ezzatollahi play for Eupen, Ali Gholizadeh, Younes Delphi and Kaveh Rezaei for Royal Charleroi and Milad Mohammadi for Gent.

On his trip to Belgium, Skocic first met with Saeed Ezzatollahi and Omid Ebrahimi and spoke with Eupen’s technical staff about the two Iranian players’ performances. Ezzatollah has not played for Eupen for a long time while Ebrahim is a fixed starter for the squad.

The Iranian teams competing in the AFC Champions League had a torrid start with only Sepahan managing a win in a total of 8 matches played by all the 4 Iranian teams. Skocic must have been concerned with such a performance especially since some of the Team Melli players have been less than ideal in those matches.

Wilmots need to really improve himself and be realistic.

Football coaches are a unique breed. They seem to know everything about football that others don’t know, they are most stubborn, do not accept defeat easily and blame the earth and the sky for the losses. It is exceptional to find a coach who admits that he screwed up and is to be blamed for bad performances or defeats. They live in denial and it seems that Marc Wilmots is doing just that … in denial.

“We did not deserve the losses against Bahrain and Iraq,” he said in his press conference, forgetting that results of matches are based on a team scoring goals and not willful thinking. Yes, Team Melli never deserves a defeat, after all Iranians are proud and passionate people who do not take lightly for being second best in any competition. So, what is new?

The reason for the two defeats might be a bit foggy for Mr Wilmots but down deep inside a person who has been in football for 30 years should hopefully know the points of failures that lead to the defeats, even if he would not admit to it in public.  Of course, Wilmots is correct not to blame one or two players for such a defeat, but that is an old and worn-out cliché. However, we all know the blame nearly always is on the shoulders of the coach. Is that fair? Perhaps not, but that is the way it is, after all, he picked those players. In these two matches, then, Wilmots is culpable and accountable for the losses no matter how much he blames luck.

There were contributory circumstances before the match that aided these defeats like lack of sufficient training sessions which would lead to a lack of understanding and failures to implement game plans. Only two days of training sessions for a crucial match does not cut it. Coaching and communicating with players are the essence of football training. It is really essential to know your players especially when you are new and there is a steep learning curve in the job. Those inept FFIRI managers who refused to pay his wages leading to a dispute are also culprits.

The role of Wilmots in both defeats is evident.

Against Bahrain in a hot and sticky humid weather when energy conversation and control of the midfield and defence is very essential away from home, Wilmots elects to have 3 forward and leave the midfield quite thin using a defender in Hajsafy, and a rookie player Mohebbi to assist the lone real midfielder Omid Ebrahimi!

The three attackers, Azmoun, Taremi and Ansarifard were stuck in traffic of Bahraini defenders and were even crowding each other upfront. The coach outlook to the game plan was poor and substitution late and ineffective.

The lineup against Iraq was much improved, but what was Shojaei doing there? Against a youthful, energetic and physical team like Iraq, the 36 years old veteran was sticking like a sore thumb, lost and hence became a liability. It is interesting to view Shojaei’s full data in the match, his pass completion rate would have not exceeded 50%, yet Wilmots never saw that and insisted on leaving him in the game until he was red-carded, while the team desperately needed a dynamo in this post! Let us not beat around the bush, it is the coach’s fault and no one else for having an ineffective midfield player in the twilight of his career while Iraq was operating with 5 full midfield players and taking control of the game.

These are just two examples of many that lead to the loss of Team Melli against Bahrain and Iraq. For good measure and ego, everyone can blame luck but the reality is the team did not play well at all. A win or a draw would have covered all the shortfall of the team and falsely showed a capable team while in reality there are many flaws in personnel and tactics.

Change yourself, and your luck will change.” ~ Portuguese Proverb

Mehdi Torabi added to Team Melli squad.

After being ignored in the initial list of Team Melli for the second time in a row, Mehdi Torabi was finally added to the list after Ehsan Hajsafi was declared unfit for the match vs Iraq.

Torabi has been one of the most effective Persepolis players this season. His performance in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 was also admirable despite the limited playing time, however, since Carlos Queiroz who was an avid admirer of Torabi, left  Torabi has not been selected or given much playing time if he was in the squad.

With Ashkan Dejagah on the injury list, the midfield of Team Melli is in dire need of a dynamic player who can feed the forwards. Omid Ebrahimi was a lone player in the last match against Bahrain who was doing the task without much support from his teammates in the middle of the field. Wilmots, for whatever reason he had, played with a defacto 4 forwards against Bahrain in a match where circumstances and weather conditions dictated a more conservative game plan with emphasis on securing the back.

Mehdi Torabi, if started, should add great value to the team. His pace and shooting ability is second to none in the squad as he can easily outmanoeuvre any of the Iraqi defenders. However, it remains to be seen if Wilmots have a different gameplan and if the coaching team have learned from that bitter defeat in Bahrain. Torabi. who operates on the flanks has proven to be much more suitable replacement for Alireza Jahanbakhsh whose loss of form has denied him a place in the squad.

Analysis of the loss to Bahrain.

Team Melli’s loss to Bahrain is far from destructive and it is too early to call on the success of the coach. However, there were many factors in the loss that needs to be highlighted. Those factors are thus discussed

  • Weather
  • Tactical error
  • Players Selections
  • Late substitutions
  • Lack of Discipline
  • Bahrain’s solid defensive game plan.


The unbearable weather condition culminated into a lethargic & energy-less performance by Team Melli players. Of course, the bad weather conditions, principally the high temperature and humidity is the biggest challenge for players. It is true that weather affected both teams, Bahrain players, however, are more adapt to such weather than the Iranians.

Tactical Error

If the coaching staff of Team Melli analyzed and studied the opposition, then their reading was faulty for one main reason. Playing 4-3-3 away from home against a fairly solid defence is a risk especially when the weather condition is a disadvantage. A line up to fulfil a balanced game-plan seems a better proposition than prioritizing offence. There was no need for 3 front players, none of whom are adapt to supporting the defence on transitions or retreat on counter-attacks against them. It would have been more prudent for Wilmots to secure the back four with a couple of competent holding midfield players and two offensive midfield players.

As time was passing, it would have been quite clear for the coaches of Team Melli that the opposition has a solid defensive game. At no time was there an obvious plan change to penetrate this defensive wall. The lack of variety in Iranian attacks only helped Bahrain coach read the Iranians well and counter it.

Players Selections

There were no issues with the defensive line up where Hosseini & Kanan-Zadegan occupied the centre of the defence while Milad Mohammadi and Ramin Rezaeian operated on the flanks. Pouraliganji’s absence was claimed to be due to a slight knock but Majid Hosseini should have easily covered him. Unfortunately, the young Trabzonspor defender was far from his best committing two vital errors one of which lead to conceded a penalty. Hosseini was slow and caught off position several times in the match.

 The two main players’ selection issues were in the Midfield and Forward lines.

It is difficult to understand what the coach wanted to achieve with the trio of Ebrahimi, Hajsafi & Mohebbi in the centre of the field. There was a clear lack of a solid holding midfielder, and if Hajsafi was supposed to be the man then he fell short of carrying out the task. Mohebbi selection left many scratching their heads. Just because he scored two goals in his debut against Cambodia does not make him fit for a match away from home in a totally different environment and priorities. He was lost and should have been substituted much earlier. Ebrahimi was excellent in the midfield. He was the schemer and played some delightful balls for his teammates, but he was a one man show in the midfield. He would have benefitted from having Noorullahi or Dejagah on his side.

In the forward line, lining up with 3 forwards, one of whom was completely out of sync and disconnected from the rest, was a tactical suicide.   In fact, the trio was not complimenting each other but also becoming an obstacle in the heavy traffic of Bahrain’s penalty box. An experienced coach should have picked that as early as the first 20 minutes of the match. Karim Ansarifard was a non-performer in this lineup.

Late substitutions

Sometimes the game does not go according to plans and the team might need a shake-up or a change in the assets. Wilmots should have recognized that much earlier than he did against Bahrain. The coaching team was reactive rather than being proactive. It was easily one of the main shortfalls of Wilmots and his assistants in this match.

Lack of Discipline

The Achilles heels of Iranian football. Whether at club level or international, the players seem to be always in a combative mode arguing with referees and easily being intimidated by tricky opponents. Acts of indiscipline normally lead to loss of concertation and errors. In two consecutive matches, Team Melli must consider itself lucky not to lose two players for offences that deserved red cards. Against Cambodia, it was Pouraliganji with his wild lunge on the goalkeeper and against Bahrain; it was Azmoun who was the culprit.  Sardar reacted angrily against the referee for not giving a penalty to  Iran. Despite being awarded a yellow card for his dissent, Azmoun did not stop arguing. It was as if he was daring the Uzbek referee to give him another card! Such a petulant act by a player who does not seem to learn from his failings and continues committing these irrational acts.

Bahrain’s solid defensive game plan.

The Portuguese coach of Bahrain Hélio Filipe de Sousa was much better prepared for the match against Iran and put a solid defensive strategy that did not allow the top guns of Team Melli penetrating his defences. Using two layers of the defensive system, he managed to neutralize Azmoun and Taremi quite easily without allowing any of them clear shots at the target. With Ansarifard, the job of covering him was easier as the Iranian forward was ineffective. Bahrain depended on counter-attacks in the hoping of grabbing a goal which they did in their limited number of attacks.

Wilmots failed to react to such a defensive plan and slow to address it. Essentially, he had little solutions to counter the Portuguese game plan.

Final words

In summary, failure in a match is part and parcel of football. It is surely not a tragic loss to Bahrain as Team Melli still looked solid. This defeat, although caused by an individual error of Majid Hosseini, is the collective result of many factors that have been addressed above. Individual errors and slip-ups can occur anytime, the team that is prepared and has learned from its mistakes, usually can storm the weather and come out winners. The repeated occurrence of similar mistakes spells doom.

Marc Wilmots has not had enough time to get familiar with the team. It is quite doubtful that he selected many players, if any, of his own choice leaving Hashemian and others to offer suggestions. A two to three days training session before the match is simply not adequate enough for a new coach to get familiar with the capabilities of his squad.

However, Wilmots must address some issues immediately. In order for him to succeed, he needs to read the games much better and do his homework on Iraq from now.

Team Melli falls short in Bahrain

Bahrain once again inflicted injury to Iranian pride by beating Team Melli 1-0 today in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers in the match played at the National Stadium in Riffa.

The solitary goal scored by Bahrain’s Mohammed Al-Hardan in the 65th minute from a penalty kick as a result of a foul committed by Majid Hosseini on the Bahraini player in the box.

It was the first defeat for Wilmots since he took over from Carlos Queiroz. The defeat came right after  14-0 win against Cambodia in Azadi. Team Melli performance was lethargic and lacked creativity. A few of the regular shortfalls were observed once again in this match including some disciplinary issues, surprisingly this time by the Captain of the team Ehsan Hajsafi who was guilty of being temperamental and unnecessary vocal after being awarded a yellow card. Not a good example for a person who should lead by example.

 Azmoun, by now well-known for his hot temperament and poor discipline, was seconds away from receiving two consecutive yellow cards and subsequent dismissal after a vehement protest against the Uzbek referee for not calling a penalty. The Uzbek referee V. Kovalenko seemed to be right on both calls.

The match played in sweltering heat and high humidity, was slow to take shape. Both teams seemed to conserve energy for better endurance. By the 15th minute, both teams players’ jerseys were wet as if were taken fresh out of water. Naturally, the hosts who are used to this sort of weather ¾ of the year managed to acclimatize better under the circumstances.

Marc Wilmots, elected to start with 3 forwards upfront, a plan that did not yield well. Karim Ansarifard, the 4 goal hero of last Thursday, was virtually just a bystander figure who did not seem to have turned up for the game. He was substituted in the 70th minute while Wilmots could have done much better if that substitution was done earlier.

There was very little to differentiate between the two teams as their defences did not have many problems against the opposition forwards. However, the trio Azmoun, Taremi and Ansarifard were quite disappointing. Whatever balls that reached the veteran Bahrain goalkeeper Seyed Mohammaed Jaffar was dealt with by him.

Omid Ebrahimi was the dynamo of the team and most of the offensive moves were started by his excellent distributions. However, Ebrahimi lacked support in the midfield as neither Hajsafi or Mohebi could add value to the schemer in the centre of the field. Wilmots would have been better off adding another specialized midfielder like Noorollahi using four players for better control of the midfield. The flanks did not operate well either as Milad Mohammadi and Ramin Rezaeian were limited in their action.

The defence line was fine but Majid Hosseini committed two critical errors, one of which cost Iran the game. In the first instance, the young central defender left a lot of space for Bahrain forward, but for his poor finishing, the host could have taken the lead much earlier. In the second, his poor position again and lunging at the Bahraini forward, cost the penalty.

The result takes Bahrain to the top of the group along with Iraq with 7 points while Iran with 6 points drops to 3rd. It was more than a disappointing result with several tactical errors observed. Wilmots need to seriously look at his lineup that lacked balanced. This mentality of an all-out offensive game plan must not obscure his vision and should be revisited.  Cracks began to appear early in the match as teams such as Bahrain and Iraq can exploit them.  the Belgian need to go back to the drawing board.


Iran’s next game is in one month’s time away to Iraq.