Critics say that this year’s Iranian squad is desperate to make their mark on the world stage. It will be Team Melli’s third trip to the World Cup, the first in eight years, after a struggle to reach the top of their Asian region. But there is more than just desperation surrounding their journey to the finals. Iran will be sending their best squad ever to Germany, bursting with youthful talent along with a strong core of trusty, veteran leaders.
When it comes to Iranian soccer, you can’t get past any commentary that doesn’t include seasoned striker Ali Daei (Saba Battery). He holds the record as the all-time leading goal scorer in international matches, with a spectacular 107 goals in 143 matches. At 36 years old, Daei’s goal-scoring savvy is still on point. He was the leading scorer in Asia last year and is now captain of the team. Expect him to score some killer goals in Germany, just as he did in Iran’s last three matches.
Twenty-seven-year-old Ali Karimi (Bayern Munich) leads the pack of youngsters that are set to make some great impressions. Nicknamed the “Wizard of Tehran,” Karimi has also been called the “Persian Maradona.” His strong performances at Bayern Munich, where he scored in his Champions League debut, and with Iran made Karimi the Asian Player of the Year 2004.
Mehdi Mahdavikia (SV Hamburg) is another young Iranian player honing his skills in Germany. “The Rocket’s” speed, sharp vision and passing skills, and acute ability to set pieces will surely be of use. Rounding out the foursome are Ferydoon Zandi (FC Kaiserslautern) and Vahid Hashemian (Hannover), also with experience on German turf.
While youth can be a strength, many are calling it an issue for Iran. Fifteen players on the roster recently are between 21 and 25 years old, an overwhelmingly large number to be playing in the World Cup for the first time. But many have faith that this highly-praised squad will persevere.