Tag: Saman Ghoddos

Jahanbakhsh’s imminent departure from Feyenoord.

Reports in Dutch media predicted the departure of Team Melli winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh from Feyenoord at the end of the season.

Feyenoord has officially terminated Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s contract, making him a free agent at the end of the season. According to the Dutch media outlet “nu,” Feyenoord had a one-way option to extend Jahanbakhsh’s 30-year-old contract for one more year, but this extension needed to be activated before April 1. Since Feyenoord managers decided not to renew the contract, Jahanbakhsh’s departure from Feyenoord is now official. However, it’s important to note that Jahanbakhsh is not definitively separated from the club. As a free agent this summer, he can negotiate with other clubs, including Feyenoord. There’s a possibility that he may return under a different contract, similar to what happened with Saman Ghoddos last summer at Brentford. Nevertheless, given the current composition of Feyenoord’s players, it seems unlikely that he will remain with the team.

Jahanbakhsh joined Feyenoord in the summer of 2021, and this season he primarily served as a reserve player. He only started 2 games only while coming in from the bench 8 times. During the previous season, when Feyenoord won the Dutch championship, he played in 28 games scoring 5 goals. In addition to Jahanbakhsh, Costas Lampero, the reserve goalkeeper for the team, has also been informed that he can leave in the summer. The 32-year-old Greek player signed a one-year contract with Feyenoord last summer but did not play a single minute this season.

The 30-year-old winger has been experiencing a gradual decline in form both at club and international level.

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.

Players that need to stand up and be counted.

There is no need to overcomplicate the issues for tomorrow’s match between Team Melli and their strongest opponent yet, Japan.

Simply, Iran has to win by playing their best match of the tournament. To do that, a few players need to elevate their game and need to stand up and be counted.

Against Syria, It should have been far more comfortable than what it was after Team Melli dominated the first half which finished with a 1-0 lead. A rash tackle by Beiranvand led to a penalty and the Syrian equalizer changed everything.

At some point, it looked like Team Melli was content with the draw.

Against Syria and the group matches, many players failed to impress. These players need to double their efforts for Japan’s match to make it to the semi-finals.


The hope of Team Melli fans, the highest Team Melli scorer, the icon who plays alongside the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Dybala in the Italian Serie A. Azmoun has been far from convincing, even his body language is suspect. He needs a major upgrade of his game and a unique performance against Japan to put everyone’s mind at ease. The team particularly needs his aerial power against Japan.


Player whose moves, runs and crosses are essential for the forwards. He has the abilities and the skill but he lacks application and purpose. He is capable enough to be a threat to the Japanese with some self-belief and confidence. Ghalenoei should also encourage him to shoot when the situation is right.


Despite his vision, skills, and experience, he still fell short in previous games. He also needs more fighting spirit the type he displays for his club Brentford. Whatever the problem is, he never seems to complete a 90-minute game. For everyone’s sake, we hope he has the lungs and the stamina to do that against Japan.


The longish injury just before the start of the Asian Cup could be the reason for his slow return back to form. Team Melli badly needs Rezaeian’s runs on the right flank. He is the perfect player for this match to send crosses for Azmoun. An on-form Rezaeian could win Iran the match against a vulnerable Japanese keeper and defense.


Not convincing in his last few matches, however, this should be the match to redeem himself against a tough skillful opposition. He needs to speed up physically and mentally. He has to support both the forwards and the defense. Ezatollahi must form the first line of defense against the Japanese attacks. It is a mighty task, but this match will determine if he is good enough for Team Melli.


Some criticism against him for conceding three goals, most of which he could have prevented, but he was also the savior. Tomorrow, his errors should be minimal. His towering presence will be essential. His position awareness in the box is vital. A good performance by Beiranvand will lead to a Team Melli victory.

Syria: A difficult team to beat

. Iran needs various solutions against park the bus Syrian defense

. Syria will frustrate the Iranian forwards.

. Team Melli lacks prowess in the middle of the park.

On paper and form, Iran is the favorite to go through the round of 16 match against Syria on Wednesday. Everything is backing Team Melli from the head to head records to form, players ratings and anything in between. Frankly, it is hard to find any aspect of the Syrian team that can match Iran’s.

Football, however, is a strange game where forms and stars sometime lose their way in a match. Team Melli started brightly against Palestine, dispatching four goals in the process. Against Hong Kong, the Team was an embarrassment and perhaps even lucky not to come out with draw. Third time against the UAE, the team was back to its standard and perhaps unlucky not to score more than two goals.

Evaluating the performance of the Syrian team, their last 3 games were hardly impressing. However, it must be mentioned that in Héctor Raúl Cúper , they have a seasoned coach with an immense experience. at club and national teams levels. The Argentine, who at one stage coached Inter Milan , has moved eastward coaching Georgia, Egypt, Uzbekistan . Congo DR before settling in Syria. He is , perhaps, the Syrian team greatest asset.

Syria, just made it to in the knockout stage of the Asian Cup, after a narrow 0-1 loss to Australia, a goalless draw versus Uzbekistan and a narrow 1-0 win against India. The stats clearly says that there is not much fire power in the Syrian team scoring one goal in three matches to qualify, but on the other hand, they seem to have a solid defense that has conceded one goal only, a record which is better that Iran which has conceded two goals.

Clearly, this team excels in defending. Cuper is well aware of his team strength and will be repeating the same against Iran. Packed and tight defenses , double teaming the Iranian wingers and closing down the central defense will be the game plan for Syria. It will be a classic Italian style defense.

The Syrian players are physically and technically strong and can match the Iranians. What they lack, however, is the skills, experience and the team work of Iran. Ghalenoei, must have a pragmatic approach to this match and be prepared to change game plan and players’ options to counteract the tight defenses of Syria.

While Rezaeian will be a key provider of crosses on the right flank for Taremi and Azmoun, the lack of pace and skills of Ezatollahi to cover him, could prove costly in case of counter attacks by Syria. The same can be said on the left side of the defense where Hajsafi is venturing much less than usual but also has no real backing in case he decides to venture forward for crosses.

In fact, it there was a good defensive midfielder in the team, the central defenders would have benefitted a lot and their work cut short playing more comfortably at the back. This is probably the major shortfall of Team Melli right now. Feeble defensive midfield players.

Hossein Kanani is suspended for the match against Syria, which might be a good thing for Iran as he has been error prone in the las three matches. Majid Hosseini, and Shoja’a Khalilzadeh , although not familiar with each other, can still perform the job expected from them.

Saman Ghoddos, at his best, is a key player in Team Melli although , he does tend to drift in and out at times. His defense splitting passing is crucial, as well as the dribbling of Ghayedi and the crosses of Jahanbakhsh. Ghalenoei must introduce a variety of plans to put pressure on the Syrian defense.

Saeed Ezatollahi whose style of play is slow , destructive, and passes somewhat backwards, needs to be counted if he is picked as a starter. He has been one of the weaknesses in the line up as the squad does not have adequate coverage in this department. Cheshmi is more versatile and better defensive player, while Ebrahimi is stronger in tackles and more experienced but Ghalenoei somehow sees something in Ezatollahi that keeps him in the team as a regular starter. It is about time that this midfield performs it defensive duty to help the team and ease the pressure on the defenders.

Iran v Hong Kong updates

Team Melli will play its second match in Group C of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 against Hong Kong at 20:30 local time today. Following Iran’s 4-1 win against Palestine, this match will be the confirmation of qualification to the next round in case of a win.

Shoja’a Khalilzadeh has been added to the injury list of Team Melli after the central defender received a knock in the match against Palestine. He is not available for tonight’s match and his replacement will be Seyed Majid Hosseini.

Mehdi Torabi who was not included in the Palestine match due to an injury, is also available for selection by the coaches.

Khalilzadeh is not the only change in the expected lineup as two key players are available and will most probably start the game. After fully recovering from his slight injury, Ramin Rezaiean will be one of the starters. The right winger played a few minutes in the previous game and showed no sign of any problems.

Also, Sardar Azmoun will be starting the game along with Mehdi Taremi. Karim Ansarifard will return to the bench. Azmoun was the last player to join the squad, hence Ghalenoei opted to use him in the second half against Palestine.

Against Hong Kong, there is also a possibility of a change in the middle of the field, where Team Melli lacks dynamism and energy with Saman Ghoddos taking the full burden. The defensive midfield needs to be better equipped, hence the chances of dropping the ineffective Ezatollahi are quite high.

Post-match analysis: Iran vs Palestine

Team Melli started the 18th edition of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 with a convincing win against what was thought to be a tricky fixture versus the resolute Palestine. The 4-1 scoreline could have been even better if the forwards finished their chances much better style.

Although Ghalenoei’s initial lineup surprised quite a few observers, it turned out to be quite a revelation. The team played well, their intricate passing was a mark of an organized team and the individual skills added a flavor to the overall performance. Ansarifard and Ghayedi, both bench players in the squad, started and scored goals. Sadegh Moharrami, another player who is not on top of the coach’s list as a starter, played a superb match both in defensive and offensive roles.

It was an excellent performance by the team, however, as always, there were the odd concerns. Saman Ghoddos was the maestro of the team. He is becoming increasingly a key player and his importance to the team is such that his absence will negatively affect the performance. A replacement player at his level cannot be found, as no other playmaker can match Saman’s ability. The closest is perhaps Ali Gholizadeh.

On the side of the midfield role, the defensive or holding midfielder is Saeid Ezzatollahi, a player who has failed to impress for many seasons. The only positive aspect about this player is his physique and work rate. His passing, positional awareness, and individual skills including dribbling are quite suspect. Today, he gifted Palestine with an assist while it was much easier for him, a tall player, to clear the ball instead of sending it sideways. That move was difficult to digest, thankfully Team Melli was 3 goals up by that time. Rouzbeh Cheshmi, is a much better choice for a holding midfielder, with Omid Ebrahimi, even at 37, supplementing that role.

The other concern is Mehdi Taremi. There is no doubt about the quality of the Porto striker and his importance to Team Melli. He has proven time and again that he is a prolific striker who can compete at the highest levels of international football. Yet, there is a marked weakness. Taremi needs ten chances to score one goal. His rate of conversion is quite poor. He really should have finished at least two chances to score today.

On a positive note, the match against Palestine, showed the rest of the teams in the AFC Asian Cup 2023, that any team that intends to lift the trophy, it has to go through Iran.

1. Ali Beiranvand: Confident and reliable as always. He could not be faulted much on the goal conceded, as the defense should have covered better. otherwise, he was not really tested [7.3]

3 Ehsan Hajisafi: There is a trace of some pace and skill loss and perhaps hesitancy in some duels, but he stood well against the attacks and was firm. Did not venture forward much. [7.2]

4 Shoja’a Khalilzadeh: A quality performance at both ends of the field. His goal was the icing on the cake as he finished like a seasoned striker. Unfortunately, he was substituted late in the first half after clashing against a Palestinian forward while clearing the ball. [8.0]

13 Hossein Kanani: Nothing major to fault in his performance except for the early yellow card when an opposition player dribbled him forcing him to commit a foul. [6.7]

2 Sadegh Moharrami : A brilliant performance by the right back, perhaps one of the best in a Team Melli jersey. Confident, skillful, pace, and timely tackles highlighted his performance. This was quite assuring for Ghalenoei. [8.0]

6 Saeid Ezatolahi: continues to be a disappointment in Team Melli jersey. His gift to the Palestine forward that resulted in the goal, slow thinking, and wrong or incompleted passes against a modest team will be more than a concern comes the stronger matches. [6.2]

18 Mehdi Ghayedi: A delightful performance from the little winger. He was a menace to the Palestinina defense and his dribbling ability is an asset to the team. He was a good selection by Ghalenoei to start the game. His marvelous goal from Jahanbakhsh’s assist speaks volumes about his ability to finish [8.1]

10 Karim Ansarifard: A Drem start for the seasoned Team Melli forward. Passing a century of games for Iran, Ansarifard is still going strong. His moves show how much has the European experience improved his performance. Excellent finish for the opening goal. [7.8]

9 Mehdi Taremi: It was not to be his day as Taremi ended the match empty-handed, with no goals or assists. There is so much expectation from the fans that an average performance by Mehdi is considered a bad performance and disappointing. He missed many chances that a striker of his caliber should finish in the net. Saying that his presence in the team is still effective and important. [7.2]

14 Saman Ghoddos: The MVP of the match. Ghoddos is becoming a key squad player. His vision, passing accuracy, dead balls, and energy are outstanding. Two assists for the day and a near-perfect performance. [8.9]

7 Ali Jahanbakhsh: A much better performance from him and a big improvement from previous outings. Jahanbakhsh provided a quality assist to Ghaedi but he was also active throughout the match. He was winning balls and tackling well. Hardly put a foot wrong even while being constantly harrassed and fouled by a rough Palestinian defense. [8.0]


19 Majid Hosseini: A fine replacement for Khalilzadeh late in the first half. He hardly had any difficulty containing the Palestinians’ attacks and combined well with Kanani in the center of defense. An assuring figure if Khalilzadeh could not make the next match. [7.5]

21 Mohammad Mohebi: Replaced Ghayedi but failed to replicate the performance of his hometown teammate in the second half. Sometimes he portrays a frustrating figure especially if he does not get the proper pass. Needs to address such frustrations on the field. [6.5]

20 Sardar Azmoun: Replaced Ansarifard in the second half and his impact was instantaneous. Scored from short range to make the score 4-1 for Iran. Despite some more chances between him and Taremi, the pair could not add to the scoreline, and the communication between them failed to click. Still, his presence alone up front is an asset to the team [7.8]

23 Ramin Rezaeian: not rated due to short time on the pitch
8 Omid Ebrahimi: not rated due to short time on the pitch

Iran-Angola : Match preview

Team Melli will face Angola in the second match of FIFA Day of September in front of empty seats at the aging Azadi Stadium on Tuesday evening.

As part of preparation for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 in Qatar, Amir Ghalenoei will have another opportunity to have a closer look at the players and perhaps engage in some tactical and personnel changes against Angola.

Against Bulgaria, which Iran won by a solitary goal of Mohammad Mohebi, the signs were positive with the team playing silky smooth football with lots of inter-passing and players finding their teammates easily. If there was a criticism. it was the profligacy of the players and poor finishing touch on fine moves.

Today at the Azadi stadium, still undergoing maintenance and building work, it is highly unlikely that Ghalenoei will embark on major changes. The team he inherited from his predecessors Queiroz and Skocis will be fundamentally his main players all the way to the AFC Asian Cup. Introducing new players, even from the Omid team, will only be done as a token measure. In fact, Iran’s local league is of poor quality limiting Ghalenoei’s choices. He will be challenged to find many good players.

The hope and expectation from Ghalenoei, however, is to be more adventurous and introduce an attractive football to ease the pain of Queiroz’s legacy which was built on a solid defense.

As observed from the last match against Bulgaria, Team Melli still has that solid defensive structure, but that can be tested against better teams like what the England Team did in the World Cup 2022. The fear always remains that tactical discipline can break down at any time. Japan at the semi-final of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 is a classic example.

The surprise and the disappointment were in the offensive line, however. It was a profligate, sluggish, and lethargic display by the front line, with Taremi being a shadow of himself against Bulgaria. In the absence of Azmoun, the lineup accommodated one central forward and a pseudo-forward in Mohebbi. The FC Rostov player played well but Moghanlou, introduced in the second half seems to be lost and really not worthy of a place in Team Melli, despite his good work for the club. It remains to be seen how Ghalenoei’s loyalty will be tested with this player. There are many other options available for Ghalenoi to replace Moghanlou notably, Allahyar Sayyadmanish.

The midfield still remains a concern with a lack of quality and pace. Saman Ghoddos was surprisingly excellent against Bulgaria despite a lack of match practice. That was one positive sign for the midfield.

Angola has experienced a significant decline in recent years. It is currently ranked 116th in the FIFA ranking and 27th in the African continent. Angola has only advanced to the quarter-final stage twice in its eight appearances in the Africa Cup of Nations. Among the teams that have faced Iran since the beginning of the Amir Ghalenoei era, Angola is only ranked better than Afghanistan which Iran defeated 6-1, and even this team is 52 places lower than Cape Verde, which was supposed to originally face Iran.

Since the beginning of 2023, Angola has recorded two wins, two draws and two losses in six games and recently participated in the Cosafa Cup (Cup of Southern African Nations) with a team of selected players from its league and withdrew from the competition in the group stage. Pedro Gonsalos, the 47-year-old Portuguese head coach, who has a history of playing in the youth teams of Sporting Lisbon and the under-17 and under-20 national teams of Angola, is currently in charge.

This team hosted Madagascar in the final round of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers on Thursday night, and the game ended in a goalless draw to finish second with 9 points after Ghana.

Players rating: Bulgaria vs Iran

Overall, it was both a good match and an excellent result for Team Melli under Amir Ghalenoei who remains undefeated so far. The win could have been by a bigger margin if it was not for profligacy of players and some poor finishing. It was delightful to watch team Melli play silky smooth football and the defensive setup was excellent.

Player’s rating:

1Alireza Beiranvand : Was hardly tested by the Bulgarians, mainly due to the solid defense but when it came to action, he was right there dominating his area. Importunely injured himself while throwing one of his renowned long balls to Taremi. [7]
3Ehsan Hajisafi : Played cautiously and without over doing the basics. Had good control of the ball and good vision to distribute to teammates. Could have been more productive on the left flanks though. [7.5]
8Morteza Pouraliganji : Showed some uncertainty, nevertheless it was solid defensive performance. He did not commit any major errors to affect the team. He was lucky to have his old partner in the middle of defense. [7.0] 79′
23Ramin Rezaeian: On the right flank, he operated efficiently and was flawless in defensive duties. Like Hajsafi, he could have been more productive in attack by providing crosses to the forward line. [7.0]
4Shojaa Khalilzadeh: One of the stars of the match. His selection was doubtful, but once again this veteran has surprised observers by performing to the highest standards. Dominated the Bulgarians, sturdy in defense with timely tackles. Beaming in confidence and his timings was perfect. A delight to watch him play to such a high standard. [8.5]
17Ahmad Noorollahi : Nothing out of the ordinary for this midfield player. Does his basic duties but nothing above or beyond that. Lacks the creativirty to make him a star palyer or influnce a match, neverthe less agood reliable workhorse [7].
6Saeid Ezzatolahi : In defensive role, like Noorollahi, he is just about acceptable. His physique could be handy but there is little to single him out in the team. He drifted on and off . His early promises to indicate that he will be an outstanding player has just about faded.[6]
10Mohammad Mohebbi: This promising forward has potential to become a household name in Iran’s football. Has the right skills to be one of the stars and today he must have proven his values to Team Melli coaching staff and the observers. Took the goal very well and could have scored another. Needs more discipline tactically and emotionally to get to the higher height of stardom. He was excellent against Bulgaria troubling the defenders whenever he had the ball. [8.5] 14′
9Mehdi Taremi : It is both a strange and poor performance by arguably one of the stars of Team Melli. One of his worst matches since joining Team Melli. Uncertain, hesitant, profligate and totally out of depth in this match. Even simple passing eluded him. It was a match that Taremi should wipe from his memory, because by his high standards, this was just a horrible act. Hopefully this is one odd match although the records show that Taremi is not doing well in Porto either. All these talks and rumors about his transfer to Milan and other European teams must have affected his concentration on the field. [3.5]
14Saman Ghoddos : This was a grand performance from a player who you would think will struggle because he has not played a competitive match for a long time but also is without a club! Yet, Saman stood up to the challenge and performed like a true professional. His assist to Mohebbi was indeed a majestic move. That was not the only positive about Ghoddos either as his running and vision was delightful to watch, Unfortunately he is not physically ready for 90 minutes. Finding a club which will play him regularly, wil be a great asset for Team Melli. [8.75]
7Alireza Jahanbakhsh : There is always a lot of expectations from Jahanbakhsh however, he is one of a few  inconsistebt players in the squad. There is no doubt about his abilties and skills, the problem is when and how he deploys this for the benefit of the team. Wanders all over the pitch without being productive. Perhaps his lack of playing time in Feyenoord has affected his confidence. He was well below his high standards and just average in this match [5]


12 Payam Niazmand: Substituted early in the match after Beiranvand mishap but proved himself as good and kept a clean sheet. There is little to fault this towering keeper and seems to be full of confidence [7.5]

20 Shariyar Moghanlou: introduced in 57th minute and quickly became a bull in a China shop, getting his first yellow card 11 minutes later.  He was quite lucky not to be sent off and escaped being awarded a second yellow card soon after with his wild high tackle. His rough play could be due to a certain lack of skill. This is his third Team Melli match, and his performance is deteriorating with each match. There is little value evident in his game, no real skills just physicality.  However, even in heading duels, he lost to the defenders. [2.5]

18 Ali Karimi: It was nice to see him back in Team Melli and performed well after being subbed in on the hour. He is still capable of providing those accurate passes as witnessed in this match. His vision is also exceptional. He could be a threat to Noorollahi as a starting player. [7.0]

Milad Mohammadi, Rouzbeh Cheshmi and Mohammad Daneshgar NOT rated becide of the insufficient time of play.

A knockout like match between IRAN and USA.

Team Melli is still brimming with joy following the dramatic victory over Wales. It was a well-deserved win for Iran, especially after the embarrassing 6-2 hammering by England. It was also timely and Team Melli boys should be full of confidence going into Tuesday’s match against the US team in a politically charged World Cup match.

As for the Americans, there is no other choice except to win, or else they would be on the first flight home. It is claimed that this group of U.S. players is considered the best generation of American soccer. But they finished third behind Canada and Mexico in World Cup qualifying and now face a must-win final group-stage match. Their game against England showed the quality of the Americans. They were brave and logical in the game plan.  The US team rattled the post from a thunderous shot by Pulisic. They were also the better team against Wales and could have put the game to bed by the first half. In the second half, Wales took control and managed to equalize through a late penalty. The American players themselves, know the difficulty of the task ahead as their star player Weston McKennie  said: “The most important thing is that we control the outcome of our journey in this tournament with the last game against Iran, So the next thing is just to go out and get three points against Iran.”

“We got to win the game,” midfielder Gio Reyna said. “We’re not really thinking about anything else, just three points and then we’re through.”

In their last and only meeting in the FIFA World Cup, Iran famously beat the U.S. 2-1 in a 1998 World Cup match in Lyon, France which eliminated the Americans and caused thousands of flag-waving fans to pour into the streets of major Iranian cities in celebration. That was perhaps the greatest post-revolution victory for Iran’s football. In the leadup to the rematch on Tuesday, the U.S. Soccer Federation angered Iran’s government by briefly displaying Iran’s flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic. Calls by the Iranian side including Queiroz to kick US from the tournament was nothing was “A Storm In A Teacup” meant to politicize the match.

“I just hope we don’t leave it to the 90th-whatever minute,” said Stu Holden, a midfielder on the bench that night and now a Fox commentator. “It would be pretty cool to call a last-second U.S. winner, but selfishly I’m quite OK with us just getting that done early and moving on to the round of 16 because that would be a lot better for my blood pressure.”

As for Team Melli’s readiness, it seems that both Alirezas will be absent. Beiranvand is still unfit after the broken nose in the opener against England, while Jahanbakhsh got himself booked again against wales hence he will serve a one-match ban.

The expectation is that Queiroz will stick to the same game plan that was used against Wales. Why change a winning team?
However, the match against the USA will be much more difficult than the last one as the Americans have to win and that will mean constant pressure and a barrage of attacks. This might be a good thing for Team Melli if the defense does its job and will possibly leave the back line of the US team a bit light. Unfortunately, Team Melli has proven to be slow in transition and counterattack up front. Taremi in particular lacks pace, and the way Queiroz insisted to send the balls directly behind the Welsh defense for Taremi, simply did not work.  Goals have been a struggle for a U.S. team, which got just three from forwards in 14 World Cup qualifiers. Team Melli is much better off keeping the ball and penetrating on the wings and through the middle. With some players who can shoot, it is also a good option too.

Nothing significant has changed on the field of play for Team Melli. Beiranvand’s absence should not be felt as Hosseini or Abedzadeh are well capable of guarding the goal, while Jahanbakhsh’s absence is not a great loss as he has been struggling in this World Cup.

The absence of a schemer in the middle of the field has forced Queiroz to use route one football. It is not pretty and most of it ends up as lost possession allowing the opposition to mount counterattacks. The is still a card in Saman Ghoddos who can be an asset in the midfield and well capable of feeding Azmoun and Taremi. Whether Queiroz has enough trust in the Brentford midfielder is not known.

Saman Ghoddos on Iran, the World Cup and ‘playing for the people’

Miguel Delaney  – The Independent

Saman Ghoddos visibly considers his words, but he has clearly thought about what he is going to say. The Brentford forward does not want to stay silent on an issue of such importance. The stakes for Ghoddos, however, are much greater than just offering a statement on Qatar’s issues in the way most other World Cup players might.
The 29-year-old knows he is going to be asked about the political strife in Iran, where the state security forces have killed hundreds in shutting down nationwide protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, who was beaten in police custody after allegedly breaking rules on mandatory head coverings. He has agreed to an interview because of it, though, and shows considerable courage with his comments.

“Everybody wants to see a change,” Ghoddos says. “It’s a change that is very easy. What the people want is nothing special. It’s just freedom and I don’t want to say ‘Yeah, go fight for it’ because I don’t think violence is the right way. But something has to change and this has been going on for too long.”

If the words seem simple, they come from a hugely difficult situation, not least because of the intense focus on this Iranian team. Speaking out could bring significant repercussions, given the government have just issued the first death sentence over demonstrations. There’s also the fact that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s state are seeking to politically use the World Cup to present an image of normality.

Ghoddos nevertheless feels that players “of course” have some responsibility. He says the squad had been messaging about it “almost every day” before they met up this week.

“No one is happy about it,” Ghoddos says. “I don’t want to mix politics with football but football is coming to the side right now because people are losing their lives fighting for freedom… clearly a change needs to come, and it has already been going on for so long. We all want change.

“If you think it’s the right thing to do, I think you should because you’re a famous athlete. If you can put a light on what’s going on you should do it – with pressure or without pressure because it’s the right thing to do.”

It almost feels wrong to be discussing football in that context. It is why England’s opening game is one of the most politicized fixtures of this highly politicized World Cup. The United Kingdom’s fractious history with Iran feeds into the political strife, the state’s regional alliance with the controversial nation, and the recent claims that Khamenei’s regime is supplying drones to Russia in the Ukrainian war.

All of that has led to multiple calls that the team be thrown out of the World Cup. Ghoddos is diplomatic and nuanced on that, even though this is his dream.

“I’ve been reading about it and people have been asking my opinion about it. I understand what they are talking about and where they are coming from. But I don’t know if it’s the right decision to kick us out. I don’t know if it’s the right move for me. I don’t know if anything will change because of that. It’s better to change what the real problem is, not to kick the football side out of the World Cup. That’s my opinion.

“Everybody can see what’s going on, it’s not so pleasant, and if we can put a light on what’s happening and if we can make a change in that way, that would be a good thing.”

There’s also a notable comment later on, when Ghoddos talks of how they “play for people in Iran” – not the state. This is where the debates on these topics become so complicated, going right back to Argentina 1978 and even Russia 2018, because the population’s football culture will always be distinct from ruling powers.

Ghoddos does admittedly come from this with a different perspective than many of his teammates. He grew up in Sweden after his parents migrated, and was initially a Swedish international with two caps and a goal. Ghoddos hadn’t even visited Iran until he made the switch in 2017. That never meant he felt any less Iranian, though. He couldn’t.

“We spoke Iranian and had this culture in my home. I was never able to go because, every time my parents were flying there, I had an important football game or something like this.

“There are so many Iranians in Sweden and in the city I was born in, Malmo.”

That naturally means he has memories of his country’s previous appearances in World Cups, not least the emotional impact of another of the most politicized fixtures.

“I was five years old in 1998 but I remember the celebration against the USA,” he says of Iran’s historic 2-1 win. “We always taped the World Cup and watched it every time after school.”

Iran famously beat the United States in 1998 (Getty Images)

Iran famously beat the United States in 1998 (Getty Images)© Provided by The Independent

Playing through the Swedish football system meant it was natural to accept a call-up when asked for two friendlies, as tends to be the case for many of dual nationality. If Ghoddos didn’t exactly experience any internal debate about his choice, it was Iran manager Carlos Quieroz who offered some certainty.

“I was in the squad and for me it was a big honour but then I didn’t hear anything from Sweden. I didn’t think I was going to start. Then I got a call from Carlos Queiroz wondering if I would like to play for Iran. I never thought about it and I said ‘yeah of course’. He said he would invite me to a camp but he won’t play me because he doesn’t want to put pressure on me, and then I’m stuck to Iran.

“So he said ‘I will invite you, you train with us, and then for the next camp you can choose by yourself. For me, that was like ‘this is amazing. I’d heard about these players who get one minute [for one country] and then they’re stuck, then they can’t change, and I really appreciated the way he did it. Then Sweden wanted me to play. For me, it felt like it’s a bit too late now… so I said I want to play for Iran. I made my decision.”

His parents only ever encouraged Ghoddos to do what felt right, as they would be proud regardless, but his decision felt perfect when he experienced the response of his extended family.

“They’re just so happy every time I go with the national team and to be able to play and have their last name on my back. That’s a proud moment for them and that makes me happy.

“I never thought the people were so into football in Iran, and the kindness they have. It was very big for me.”

It felt even better when he was picked for the 2018 World Cup.

“That was the biggest thing I’d done in my life. I was like ‘I need to do this again.’ The atmosphere was something else. You just feel the energy. Now we’re there, it’s a very special moment for me. I’m very proud. I’ll try to make the best of it.

“I’m trying to get my family to come and watch but flights and hotels are very difficult. We have some rooms we can give them and the flight tickets from me. I’m trying to get them as much as possible because the World Cup is every four years and you need to be there. My family wasn’t in Russia but my friends came and they will talk about it their whole life so I’m trying to get my family, as many as possible, to come and watch.”

It reminds of the other side of the political use of football, which is the people’s enjoyment of it. It is all the more reason that Ghoddos feels an obligation – as well as an optimism. He firmly believes Iran can get out of the group for the first time.

“I rate it very high. If I’m looking at the squad for the other World Cups, I think this is the best Iran has ever had. The players we have right now, Mehdi Taremi doing well with Porto in Champions league level, same with Sardar Azmoun at Bayer Leverkusen. OK, maybe before with Ali Daei, Ali Karimi, these were exceptional players but it wasn’t so many. Now it feels like there are more of us, it’s more like a team spirit we have. It’s the same like with Brentford. We are really together and I think, with that, you can go through even if you are not as good a team on paper.

“Of course we are underdogs against England. That’s nothing to hide. I would rather fight from the underdog position and try to achieve something from there.”

Ghoddos played at the 2018 tournament (Getty Images)

Ghoddos played at the 2018 tournament (Getty Images)© Provided by The Independent

The manager, Queiroz, is well versed in that. His football isn’t always enjoyable, but it is effective. The Portuguese made Iran a hugely difficult team to play against in the last two World Cups, bringing both Spain and Portugal to the brink of elimination in 2018 – as Quieroz’s team finished on four points to their five apiece – and forcing Argentina into a stoppage-time long-range winner from Lionel Messi in 2014. Monday is unlikely to be all that enjoyable for England.

Iran are going to be very well drilled. Queiroz has been sending the players videos of what he wants for weeks.

“You know when you’re coming in what you have to do,” Ghoddos says. “It’s very tactical and the message he is sending is very clear. Everybody knows their job, and he’s trying to put it in your spine. Like, if the ball is here, you have to do this – and it’s every day.”

That tactical application will be reinforced by an emotional intensity. The Iranian squad don’t actually play national music in the dressing room, because it’s “more beautiful music”, as Ghoddos puts it. They want to be pumped.

“Right now it’s the Stormzy song, Mel Made Me Do It,” Ghoddos laughs.

“But it’s very important to make sure the energy does not get to you because when you have too much it can affect your game. As long as you can see it as a normal game, of course, you need the energy to get to a new level and we’ll need that but it will be so special because if, you play for people in Iran, the energy and level we have will help us.”

Those last few words are among the most significant of all. Ghoddos sees himself as playing for the people – and he’s been courageous in speaking for them.

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