WORLD CUP : Team profile – Iran (group D)

Iran will step back into the limelight at Germany 2006 having bounced back from the disappointment of failing to qualify for the first Asian finals in 2002. They did not have things all their own way in qualifying, however, suffering a 1-0 home defeat by Jordan in June 2004 that threatened their progress through the preliminary round.

However, Branko Ivankovic’s men found their form in that summer’s AFC Asian Cup where they beat Korea Republic 4-3 to reach the last four and with confidence levels restored, they dominated the return match with Jordan to earn a crucial 2-0 win.

That match saw the return of striker Vahid Hashemian after a long absence and he had an important part to play in the final qualifying round. After opening with a goalless draw in Bahrain, Hashemian struck both of Iran’s goals in the 2-1 victory over Japan in March 2005 that sparked a four-match winning streak that secured their finals place.

Although Iran lost their final Group B match in Tokyo to surrender first place, their place in Germany was already secure.

Three times champions of Asia, Iran reached their first FIFA World Cup as the continent’s sole representatives at Argentina 1978. They underlined their attacking-minded approach when they advanced to the 1998 finals in France by eliminating Australia.

And in France, they achieved a first finals victory in memorable fashion, defeating the US 2-1. Hopes of a second successive World Cup appearance were dashed in 2001, however, when they lost a qualifying play-off to the Republic of Ireland.

Iran’s Croatian coach Ivankovic was originally the assistant to his predecessor, Miroslav Blazevic, who stepped down after missing out in 2002. Ivankovic made a promising start in the post by guiding Iran to first place at the 2002 Asian Games and impressed since by introducing young players. Although the veteran Ali Daei finished as the nine-goal top scorer in Asian qualifying, Team Melli will travel to Germany with a rejuvenated squad. The current team is widely considered the best in Iranian football history with plenty of young talent alongside the heavyweight trio of reigning AFC Player of the year Ali Karimi, midfield dynamo Mehdi Mahdavika and Hashemian.