In comparison with Iran's achievements at senior level, their record at this age group pales into insignificance, with the junior Team Melli featuring at the FIFA U-17 World Cup only once (Trinidad and Tobago 2001). They finished runners-up in Asian qualifying to book their passage to those global finals, but they had a disastrous campaign once there, crashing out in the first round after three straight defeats.
Since then, Iran have pursued a youth development programme to catch up with their rivals on the continent and the rest of the world. After missing out narrowly on qualification for the last two FIFA U-17 events, they bounced back to win last year's AFC U-16 championship and book a place at Nigeria 2009. Under the stewardship of Ali Doustimehr, Iran comfortably won their group ahead of Bahrain, Singapore and hosts Uzbekistan to storm into the quarter-finals, where they overcame Syria 2-0. They went on to defeat UAE 3-0 in the semi-final before defeating Korea Republic 2-1 to take the Asian laurels.
A wealth of talent was responsible for Iran emerging on the Asian scene in 2008. Kaveh Rezaei proved to be the biggest revelation at the finals, scoring six goals, which was enough to earn him the tournament's golden shoe. Defender Bahram Maleki is the rock at the back while Iman Sadeghi is a dependable figure between the pipes. Blessed with such players, Doustimehr is optimistic that Iran can break new ground in Nigeria. "We promised to qualify for the World Cup and we made it. But my work has just begun because we have to show our best when representing both Iran and Asia on the global stage."
Facts and figures
Mansor Ahmadzadeh (2001), Hossein Kaabi (2001)
Iman Sadeghi (goalkeeper), Bahram Maleki (defender), Mehrdad Yeganeh (midfielder), Kaveh Rezaei (striker)
6 wins, 15 goals scored and 3 conceded.
The numbers game
2 - The number of goals Iran scored at previous appearance at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, with Mansor Ahmadzadeh bagging a brace in their 3-2 defeat to Paraguay at Trinidad and Tobago 2001.