Iran reaped dual reward during their qualifying campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Carlos Queiroz's side successfully booked their return to the world football extravaganza having missed out on the last edition at South Africa 2010 and, in addition, two fresh gems were unearthed during their campaign.
Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejhad, both European-based, emerged as two of the tournament's brightest revelations. Despite joining Team Melli only last year, the pair have quickly established their place among Queiroz's starting line-up. Dejagah was the first to shine, completing a brace in his international debut as Iran drew 2-2 against Qatar. Ghoochannejhad, for his part, came as the team's savior in the closing stages as Iran revived their fortunes.
Queiroz first started the pair in a home fixture against Korea Republic, during which Ghoochannejhad debuted and Iran won. But Dejagah underwent knee surgery this April and was thus ruled out of the remainder of the campaign.
"It was a pity that he (Dejagah) couldn't be with us during the last three games," Ghoochannejhad told FIFA.com after scoring the match-winner against Korea Republic in Seoul in the concluder which sealed progression to Brazil 2014. "Ashkan is a great player who can help the team in next year's World Cup. He's fast, got great crossing ability and is really difficult to defend against. Above all, he's a nice person to hang out and work with. I can't wait to play together with him again."
Dejagah, who joined English Premiership side Fulham from VfL Wolfsburg last season, also expressed his hunger to return. "I miss my team-mates and coach Queiroz,” he said. “Playing in front of the Iranian fans is so wonderful. I became so desperate after finding out I was unavailable for our last three qualifying matches."
Last month’s AFC Asian Cup qualifier provided the duo with a chance to re-unite. With Ghoochannejhad remaining the lone striker in Queiroz's 4-2-3-1 formation, Dejagah returned to his right-winger role providing the attacking spark. Both players started and excelled, with Ghoochannejhad scoring the match winner as Iran edged Thailand 2-1 at home to move two points clear in their group.
The duo were on target as Iran routed the same opponents 3-0 in the return meeting. It was match during which Dejagah stole the show, though. The 27-year-old midfielder was a constant menace and broke the deadlock on 28 minutes with a superb strike. The Standard Liege-based Ghoochannejhad doubled the lead just before the break by sublimely lobbing the goalkeeper, before Alireza Jahanbakhsh put a seal to the victory with a stoppage-time strike.
The two players continued their prolific form a week later in Beirut, each scoring as Iran demolished the hosts 4-1 to book their place at the continental finals at Australia 2015 with a game to spare. Results aside, even more significant were the team’s improved finishing abilities - something which had left Iran's FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign in jeopardy.
Even when Iran sealed their qualification for Brazil 2014, with a pulsating 1-0 defeat of Korea Republic in Seoul, there was concern amid excitement among the supporters, with the consensus that Team Melli must enhance their firepower. After all, Queiroz's side finished as the lowest goal-scorers among Asia's four qualified teams, with just eight goals netted in as many games.
With Ghoochannejhad and Dejagah now contributing in attack, though, Iran have returned to their old selves as a formidable power - a promising sign heading into next year's global showpiece in Brazil.
"I am very happy with my team-mates," Ghoochannejhad said. “Everybody likes to work and support their team-mate in and outside the pitch. I haven't though thought about our World Cup prospects but we are really confident about this team."