Iran failed to make it to the round of 16 yet again; the goal of progressing from the group stages was dashed by more than just losing to Bosnia in the last group game. Let us take a look at Iran's performance at the 2014 World Cup.
Carlos Queiroz, Iranian national team coach, guided Iran to the World cup with a solid defensive record and continued to focus on a strong defense at the World Cup. Whether this was wise or not is up for debate but for Queiroz it was necessary based on facts he believed to be true.
Queiroz believes that the lack of experience in competitive leagues leaves Iranian players at a disadvantage. He has not been shy about expressing his opinions about the relative strength of Iranian players. While I appreciate his honesty and agree with his overall hypothesis I disagree with his view of the outcomes.
England, Spain, and Italy are three teams stacked with players from the very top leagues. Yet all three teams suffered loses to teams that would be considered second rate. England tied with Costa Rica and could not muster a win in 3 games. Spain lost to Chile and Italy lost to Costa Rica.
Kinsmann, USA coach, was under tremendous pressure after he shared his view that Americans were unrealistic if they expected their team to win the World Cup. While Klinsmans comment is actually sensible there was uproar. Why bother to go to a tournament if you don't think you are going to win it? So back to Queiroz; Iranian expectations were measured, second round would have been a success. Was the Iranian team capable of that and was Queiroz right to be actively lowering expectations? Let's take a look at the group games.
Iran took on Nigeria in Curitiba on June 16th in a game considered to be very boring by most fans and observers. The game had the distinct pleasure of being the first game of the 2014 World Cup without goals. Iran did not seem interested in pushing forward much and be relied on counter attacks. Simply put Iran showed the Nigerians too much respect. This was a winnable game and whether it was nervousness or a game plan to avoid defeat iran did not show intent to win. Yes there were a few opportunities but every team gets a few chances through 90 minutes. Iran though was not trying to maximize the number of opportunities.
Iran's next game was the biggest game in possibly Iranian football history. June 21st in Belo Horizonte against Argentina Iran came out with focus and discipline to hold back the Argentinian offensive ma check machine. The game plan for this game worked well and made sense. They could not play an open game against Argentina without consequence.
Iran not only held back the Argentinians but had some of the best chances of the game including a clear penalty which the Serbian referee somehow missed. Conspiracies aside the referee should not be allowed to referee in a world cup again.
It wasn't until the 91st minute that Argentina escaped with a win thanks to the genius of Messi. One moment of lapse and he took advantage. Iranian players were exhausted and understandably so because playing defensively actually requires much more stamina; you chase the ball more.
It was a game that although lost raised the name of Iran globally as everyone was surprised by Iran's performance. Many even suggest that Iran should have won the game and that the referee not giving the penalty was another example of big name teams getting calls verses smaller teams.
Iranians around the world celebrated the Iranian resolve and will to take on a footballing giant. We had brought them to the verge of a big shock and only Messi and the referee had been able to stop the team. This performance brought hope and raised exo ed cations that Iran would for the first time qualify to the round of 16. To qualify meant Iran had to beat Bosnia & Herzegovina and hope for a Nigeria loss to Argentina plus a goal difference situation to hold.
June 25th the last group games for group F kicked off at 1 pm Brazilian time in the historic city of Salvador. Iranians were hoping for some new history to be made in Salvador again. Bosnia had no chance of qualifying and were playing for pride while Iran had the pressure of a whole nations expectations.
It was a very humid day in Salvador and in the Arena Fonte Nova Iranian fans started arriving two hours before kick off. The chanting of slogans had started in the morning as fans had been chanting on the way to the stadium. Iran started the game with the same mindset as it had with Argentina but the team seemed to be missing a step. Whether it was the weather or the fatigue from the fantastic game against Argentina the players seemed a bit flat.
It was in the twenty third minute when Iran's hopes took a big hit as Eden Dzecko, the Manchester City striker, found some space and on the run placed the ball low and to the left of Haghihi to score Bosnia's first. The Bosnian's continued to control the fame for the rest of the half as Iran struggled to hold off the faster and stronger Bosnian's. Iran did have a glorious check chance to score before the half but the ball hit the top bar and bounced out denying Iran the equalizer. Iran conceded a second goal in the fifty ninth minute after Bosnian pressure forced a bad pass in Iran's own half and the Bosnian's took advantage. The goal sealed Iran's fate.
Iran rallied and scored a goal in the eighty second minute after Nekounam smartly beat an offside trap play and squared the ball for Goochenejjadh to finish. In their eagerness to tie the game up Iran pushed quickly for a second only to be caught on as counter and Bosnia scored the third a minute later in the eighty third minute to cap off what was a bad day for Iran.
World Cup 2014 ended with the final whistle and with it the hopes of a nation were left to be answered in four years maybe. Carlos Queiroz is also moving on and players like Nekounam and Teymorian had likely played their last world cup game.
Teymorian was emotional at the ember of the game and the crowded leg him know he is loved as is every player on the team that represented Iran so honorably.
It was a roller coaster ride for Iran but the outcome is not unexpected. No Asian nation had qualified to the round of 16 and many nations that were expected to did not.
What is Iran to do now? It is unfortunate that Queiroz is leaving because he did bring professionalism with him. He also understood Iranian passion for the sport and was successful in highlighting some of the main challenges to Iranian football. Finally with the Asian Cup coming up it would have been wise to continue the reign of Queiroz to increase the chance of Iran lifting the Asian Cup. Changing coaches worth six months you go before the Asian Cup will disrupt the team.
Queiroz surely would fancy Iran's chances in Asia, especially since it was under his reign they became the highest ranked Asian team. After all to not believe is to be defeated before even attempting.