Under the guidance of Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, Iran, who were once one of Asia’s most formidable national sides, have been clawing their way back to impressive form. And, a recent rebuilding process has overseen many successes, ultimately contributing to the Iranians' rise eight places up to 42nd in October’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
While maintaining fourth position in Asia, the Iranians have closed the gap between them and the continent’s top three following their climb in this month's ranking. Most notably, the gap separating Team Melli and Asian leaders Japan has been significantly reduced from 35 to 25 places.
The driving force behind their giant move up the global ladder is, of course, Iran’s recent sensational form in Asia’s third qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, during which they fired six unanswered goals past Bahrain in matchday 3. A 7-0 friendly defeat of Palestine in the pre-match build-up also contributed to their progress as they emerged as Asia’s second best-movers this month.
More importantly, the Bahrain triumph has seen the Iranian outfit cement their dominant place in a section that also features Qatar and Indonesia. Another win in their second back-to-back meeting with the Gulf side at Manama on 11 November will likely to put the squad on the verge of early progression.
An attacking mindset
Boosted by the resounding win over Bahrain, Iran have set their sights not only on the next round but also a place at Brazil 2014. For the Iran faithful, however, it was the fashion in which they triumphed that has them buzzing over the side, with many believing they are close to matching the former golden generation spearheaded by the world's goal-king Ali Daei.
Indeed, the recent achievement proved a testament to the work of new manager Queiroz, who began his transformation of the team by instilling an offensive mentality within the players since taking the helm in April – a tactic Iran captain Javad Nekounam told FIFA.com was at the forefront of Queiroz development with the team.
He believes attacking is Iran’s main strength, and that we can win more matches that way.
"Before we used to focus more on defending, but Queiroz wants us to attack more," the 31-year-old Osasuna playmaker said. "He believes attacking is Iran’s main strength, and that we can win more matches that way. He wants us to get into the box a bit more."
Not surprisingly, the former Real Madrid and Portugal manager got his spell off to a good start with a 5-0 aggregate victory over Maldives in Asia’s second FIFA World Cup qualifying round. In the subsequent third stage, Iran humbled Indonesia 3-0 in their opener and despite a 1-1 draw in Qatar, thrashed ten-man Bahrain at home.
Along with Queiroz’s seamless transition to the head coach post, the current squad seeps a vast amount of talent. Directing the midfield in their preferred 4-3-3 formation are the likes of Nekounam, Ali Karami and former Fulham Andranik Teymourian, while frontline options include Saipa marksman Karim Ansarifard and Persepolis' attacking duo Javad Kazemian and Gholamreza Rezaei.
Focus on the future
And while Queiroz’s main focus remains forward-minded, Iran boast an impressive backline, integrating into the attack more than ever before with defenders Seyed Hosseini and Hadi Aghili both on target against Bahrain. However, in order to increase their potency upfront, Queiroz has set his sights on bringing in overseas recruits, with reports surfacing that both Belgium-based striker Reza 'Gucci' Ghoochannejhad and Wolfsburg forward Ashkan Dejagah are likely to feature in their next fixture.
Iran narrowly missed out on a place at South Africa 2010, but as every cloud has a silver lining, the heart-wrenching near-miss has served as motivation as the squad seeks to redeem itself on the Asian qualifying stage on the road to Brazil. Queiroz is especially keen on avoiding such disappointment, having watched the Iranian players weeping after a loss to Korea Republic in the quarter-finals of January’s 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
“I saw how sad the players were after the Asian Cup loss,” said the 58-year-old tactician. “It shows how much they love their national team. I told them that there will be no tears for us anymore and we need to work hard to make our rivals cry.”