Iran has qualified for their third straight World Cup for Qatar 2022. After the draw, they were selected into Group B with England, the United States, and later Wales after they competed in a playoff. Iran has a tough road, with two clear favorites to make it to the Round of 16 in England and the USA, both ranked in the top 15 in FIFA’s June rankings. The road out of Group B will be tough for Iran, with Wales ranked at 19, but it is not impossible. Iran has never made it out of the group stage in their five other World Cup appearances, but this year they are ranked at 23 and considered the best team out of Asia.
1. Great Qualification Tournament
Iran had the best qualification tournament in Asia, finishing with an 8-1-1 record, leading the competition points with a total of 25 points. They also had the highest goal difference in the competition of 11, scoring 15 goals, to allow four. Their only loss came against South Korea, the other team to qualify from their group in Asia, as they lost 2-0. The loss to South Korea also came in the second to last match of qualifications, having already secured their spot in the World Cup, drawing 1-1 in the earlier game. Even though Iran has proven to be a solid team over the last few years, they played impressively in qualifications, beating all the teams they had to and playing well against the best in their way.
2. Highest Ranked Team Out of Asia
In the 2022 World Cup, Iran will be the highest-ranked team coming out of Asia. As of June 2020, they are ranked at 23, with Japan right behind at 24. and South Korea the next closest at 28. Iran has been the top-ranked team in Asia by FIFA since September 2021, overtaking Japan that month. During that time, Iran ranked as high as 21, going 8-1-2, with a draw and loss against South Korea, and losing a friendly against Algeria. Asia does not offer the best competition like other continents, but it still means a lot to be the top-rated with a World Cup around the corner.
3. Attackers with Success in Europe
Iran is tied for the most goals scored in the final round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup with 15. That was essentially led by an attacking front three that, if Iran wants to succeed in the upcoming World Cup, must play well. Sardar Azmoun, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, and Mehdi Taremi combined for 11 goals and six assists, effectively being Iran’s offense. Taremi recently had one of the best domestic club seasons of his career, scoring the second-most goals in Liga Portugal with 20 for FC Porto, and led the league in goals+assists with 32. FC Porto won the league with Taremi playing a crucial role in the team’s attack. After a stellar career in Russia playing for Zenit St. Petersburg, scoring 62 goals in 104 matches, Azmoun moved to a top league in Europe, the Bundesliga. He has only appeared in nine games, but it is often tricky for January signings to break into the starting lineup immediately. Jahanbakhsh played for Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion from 2018 to 2021, appearing 61 times with four goals. He moved to Feyenoord in The Netherlands and has played well, scoring eight goals in 42 appearances.
4. An Underwhelming Group B
At first glance, Group B looks like a tough challenge for Iran. England is traditionally one of the better teams in the World Cup, the USA is one of the up-and-coming teams with young talent all over the field, and Wales is led by older megastar Gareth Bale. However, Wales has not qualified for the World Cup since 1958, barely getting in this year through the playoffs, and their manager has just resigned due to domestic violence acquisitions. The USA is unproven, and despite the team’s talent, they missed out on the 2018 World Cup due to a horrible performance against Trinidad and Tobago on the last day of qualification. In 2018, England did place fifth and was the runner-up in Euro 2020. On the other hand, in 2014, they were humiliated for not winning a single game in the group stage. More recently, in the 2022 UEFA Nations League, they have only managed one goal, going 0-2-2 with a goal difference of -5.
5. Recent Tough World Cup Group Experience
In 2014 and 2018, Iran was placed into a similar style of groups that have been this year. A clear front runner, with a second team that also seems like the second favorite to make it out of the group. In 2014, they were placed in a Group F with eventual runner-up Argentina, along with Nigeria, one of the better teams out of Africa. Iran went 0-1-2, recording just one goal, finishing at the bottom of the group. In 2018, Iran found themselves in Group B, with Spain and Portugal, who moved out of the group but not without some trouble. Iran tallied four total points, nearly making it to the Round of 16, with Spain and Portugal topping the group with five points.