A 4-0 friendly defeat at the hands of Mexico in June and their disappointing campaign in July's AFC Asian Cup should be all the motivation Iran need as they go into the FIFA World Cup ™ qualifying campaign looking to put the memories of 2006 behind them. Fortunately for Team Melli, they have been given a kind draw in a group alongside Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Syria. As Iran's footballing icon Ali Daei told FIFA.com: "We should have few problems to advance as group winners."
Few critics would argue against the striking legend so the only real question is who is best-placed to take the group's runner-up spot. Nine-time Gulf Cup winners Kuwait remain a revered regional power who are seeking to progress to their second FIFA World Cup finals, but the Spain 1982 finalists will have to be wary of their neighbouring opponents, who can draw inspiration from their title-winning campaign in the recent Gulf Cup. Syria, who eliminated Indonesia by a remarkable 11-1 aggregate score, will also do their utmost to have a say.
Iran: With possibly the second highest quota of foreign-based players - behind Australia - Iran are unquestionably one of Asia's top teams. Their stars should be able to make light of work of this group, given their superior record against these opponents.
Kuwait: Despite their recent slump, Kuwait have players of international pedigree and experience to compete against the continent's best. In the preliminaries for France 1998, they twice held Iran to a draw and on the run-up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, they toppled strongly favoured China to advance into Asia's last eight, where they were narrowly edged out by Uzbekistan for a play-off against Bahrain.
UAE: The Gulf side's 1990 debut in the FIFA World Cup and a runners-up finish in 1996 AFC Asian Cup didn't go unnoticed in the draw for the qualifying final round for Korea/Japan 2002, when they entered into the competition as one of the two top seeds. They have disappointed in recent continental competition and in qualifying for the global showpiece but their ground-breaking success in the recent Gulf Cup came as a timely boost for the team.
Theplayers to watch
Vahid Hashemian (IRN), Mehdi Mahdavikia (IRN), Ali Karimi (IRN), Andranik Teymourian (IRN), Ismail Matar (UAE), Bader Al-Mutwa (KUW), Nawaf Al Mutairi (KUW).
Kuwaitv UAE: Coach Fawzi Ibrahim will fancy his Kuwait side while the man in charge of UAE has demonstrated that he has the necessary tactical know-how and experience to create history for UAE. Frenchman Bruno Metsu guided debutants Senegal to the last eight in the 2002 FIFA World Cup and led Al Ain to the inaugural AFC Champions League title. The side coming out on top in these two meetings should go on to take second place.
A look back
United Arab Emirates0-3 Iran, 31 October 2001, Abu Dhabi. Having won 1-0 at home in the play-off between the final group stage runners-up, Iran confirmed their place in the intercontinental play-off by defeating United Arab Emirates 3-0. Ali Daei, Karim Bagheri, and Mehrdad Minavand scored in that game, but they could not prevent Team Melli from going down 2-1 on aggregate against Republic of Ireland in the next stage.
31: The number of games played between Kuwait and UAE, with Kuwait leading with 15 wins and 5 draws. Most of games were evenly-contested affairs.
Did you know?
One of the most familiar pairings in regional competition, Kuwait and UAE have only met once in FIFA World Cup qualifying (1990).
Which of the three teams can spring a surprise against top seeds Iran? Click below on 'Add your comment'.