Written by Sahand Salari - @salari_sahand
FIFA Week October 7th - October 15th, 2020
Team Melli Preview
Thursday, 08/10/20: Iran vs. Uzbekistan
Location: Tashkent, Uzbekistan (Pakhtakor Markaziy Stadium)
Tashkent - 18:00
Tehran - 16:30
Los Angeles - 06:00
New York City - 09:00
London - 14:00
Berlin - 15:00
Sydney - 00:00
Tuesday, 13/10/20: Iran vs. Mali
Location : Antalya, Turkey (Antalya Stadyumu)
Time Zones :
Antalya - 17:00
Tehran - 17:30
Los Angeles - 07:00
New York City - 10:00
London - 15:00
Berlin - 16:00
Sydney - 01:00
After a prolonged hiatus Team Melli finally returns to action this week against Uzbekistan and Mali with Dragan Skočić set to oversee his first matches at the helm following the resignation of Marc Wilmots in December.
Much has changed for the Iranian national team since they last took the pitch in a pair of hugely disappointing losses against Bahrain and Iraq that left their World Cup 2022 Qualification status in a precarious position. The blame for those results fell squarely on the shoulders of coach Marc Wilmots who subsequently departed the team in an ugly fashion, which exploded into a full fledged scandal in the following months. Allegations of large scale corruption within the federation rocked Iranian football and implicated many IFF leaders as primary culprits in the Wilmots saga, which left the already financially burdened federation owing millions to the Belgian trainer.
Given the economic implications of the Wilmots debacle the choice of the new head coach for Team Melli was an understated one, with Croatian Dragan Skočić arriving from Sanat Naft Abadan in the Persian Gulf Pro League. His experiences coaching Malavan, Foolad, and Sanat Naft should give him a strong understanding of Iranian players and this lack of acclimatization time may be crucial for a national team that needs to hit the rebound quickly to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
Since the appointment a worldwide pandemic had prevented Skocic from holding any camps or friendlies until now. Friendlies versus Uzbekistan and Mali provide a good opportunity for him to get his ideas across to the players and test out some new faces in preparation for crunch matches in the upcoming year.
Skočić’s first Team Melli squad sees the absence of many familiar faces. Starting trio Alireza Beiranvand, Morteza Pouraliganji, and Alireza Jahanbakhsh miss out due to minor injuries in the case of the two Alirezas and Covid-19 travel restrictions in the case of Chinese based Pouraliganji. Saeid Ezatolahi misses out as he is still regaining form and fitness with Denmark’s Vejle Boldklub after a couple injury hit campaigns in England and Belgium.
Additionally, no Qatar based players are present in the list, leading to speculations as to whether this will be Skočić’s policy moving forward or if travel restrictions are again behind the absences. Whatever the reason, Team Melli mainstays Omid Ebrahimi and Ramin Rezaeian will not be involved this week.
Headlining the squad will be Zenit St Petersburg’s Sardar Azmoun and FC Porto’s Mehdi Taremi, who finished as top scorers in their respective leagues last season. Skocic will be hoping their partnership up top coupled with the emergence of Charleroi’s highly creative Ali Gholizadeh and return to form of Saman Ghoddos in the offensive midfield zone can fire Team Melli to victory.
A national team return for Persepolis’s central defender Shoja Khalilzadeh after many years rewards his tremendous form and improvement under the guidance of Yahya Golmohammadi. His partnership with Hossein Kanaani will be important to provide stability in a defense missing Pouraliganji and Beiranvand. Majid Hosseini’s lack of match fitness means it is unlikely he will start both games.
A final note on youngsters Mojtaba Najarian from Foolad, as well as Mehdi Ghaedi and Aref Gholami from Esteghlal who are rewarded for their excellent seasons with their maiden national team call ups. On the other
end of the age spectrum long serving captains Ashkan Dejagah and Masoud Shojaei seem to have been phased out. As a result, Ehsan Hajsafi will captain the national team for the time being.
Full Squad List
Projected Starting Lineups (4-2-3-1)
Niazmand; Moharrami, Kanaani, Khalilzadeh, Mohammadi; Gholizadeh, Nourollahi, Hajsafi, Amiri; Azmoun, Taremi
Abedzadeh; Moharrami, Kanaani, Khalilzadeh, Mohammadi; Karimi, Nourollahi; Gholizadeh, Ghoddos, Taremi; Rezaei
Expect some alternation in the starting lineups between the two matches. With Perspolis playing many minutes recently in the AFC Champions League hardworking midfielders Amiri and
Nourollahi may be stretched to start more than one match. However, their industry and physical presence will be important in a midfield already without key men Ebrahimi and Ezatolahi. The
Goalkeeping position could also see rotation with both Amir Abedzadeh of Portugal’s Maritimo and Sepahan’s Payam Niazmand in fantastic form.
Uzbekistan present a familiar foe for Team Melli, with the two clashing many times over recent years both in World Cup Qualification and in regular friendly matches. This version of White Wolves could be considerably more dangerous than previous ones. Eldor Shomorudov headlines their squad, coming off an impressive season in Russia which saw him earn a $10.5 M move to Serie A side Genoa this week. His physical presence and industry could be difficult to contain.
Elsewhere, 19 year old starlet Oston Uronov of Spartak Moscow adds guile and creativity to compliment a traditionally physical and hardworking Uzbek midfield unit.
The second opponent for Team Melli this week should provide a much sterner test. The Mali squad comes loaded with European based talent. A dynamic midfield consisting of Brighton’s Yves Bissouma, Hoffenheim’s Diadie Samassekou, and RB Leipzig’s Amadou Haidara are all
under the age of 24. They have the technical quality and physical ability to really trouble a Team Melli midfield without key players or much game time together in the past year.
Up front the likes of Southampton’s Djenepo and Porto’s Moussa Marega will provide speed and power that will test Iran’s new look backline. Although their list contained Premier League stars Abdoulaye Doucoure and Adama Traore neither are expected to accept the invitation.
Iran 2 - 0 Uzbekistan
Team Melli’s offensive firepower should be too hot to handle for the Uzbeks. Expect Gholizadeh’s dribbling to play a key role in terms of attracting defenders to free up space for Taremi and Azmoun.
Iran 1 - 1 Mali
Against Mali, Skočić’s men may be overpowered in the midfield. Team Melli could revert to a more defensive shape of the Queiroz era and look to hit counterattacks, with Taremi and Azmoun in particular capable of hurting a subpar Malian backline, even with limited opportunities.