The Iran national football team (Persian: تیم ملی فوتبال ایران, Tīm-e Melli-e Fūtbāl-e Īrān), also known as Team Melli (Persian: تیم ملی, translit. Tīm-e Melli), represents Iran in international football competitions and is governed by the Iran Football Federation. The national football team of Iran has been the highest-ranked team in Asia since December 2014 and is currently the 32nd ranked team in the world according to the latest FIFA World Rankings as of November 2017.
Iran is one of the most successful national teams in Asia with three Asian Cup championships (1968, 1972, and 1976). Iran has qualified for the World Cup five times (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014, and 2018) but has never advanced past the group stage. Iran’s only win in the World Cup has been a 2–1 victory against the United States in 1998.
2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany
On 8 June 2005, Iran together with Japan became the first country to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, making it Iran’s 3rd appearance on the world stage of football. The qualification round both in 2001 and 2004–05 resulted in mass celebrations, hysteria and rioting, causing internal chaos and unrest between youth and government officials. The Iran versus Japan leg of the 2006 World Cup qualifiers in Tehran, played on 24 March 2005, was the highest attended qualifying match among all confederations. The match ended in tragedy with 5 fans killed and several others injured as they left the Azadi Stadium at the end of the match.
Iran started their 2006 FIFA World Cup appearance with high expectations from fans and media. Their first match was against Mexico in Group D. The game was level 1–1 at the half-time, but Iran lost at the end because of a defensive mistake. The final score, 3–1, was brought about by goals from Omar Bravo and Zinha for Mexico, with Yahya Golmohammadi scoring the only Iran goal.
Iran played against Portugal in the second game. The game was lost 2–0. The goals were scored by Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo (penalty). The two losses meant Iran was eliminated from the competition, before their third and final game against Angola. Iran drew 1–1 with Angola on the 21 June 2006, Sohrab Bakhtiarizadeh scoring the Iran goal.
2010 FIFA World Cup qualification
Ali Daei was chosen to become the new coach after Spanish coach Javier Clemente had been close to signing on as Iran’s national team manager but talks collapsed when he refused to live full-time in the country. Iran was in the same FIFA World Cup qualifying group as Kuwait, Syria and United Arab Emirates in the third round. They played home and away against each of the other three teams in group 5. In the middle of the fourth round, Ali Daei was let go from his position as the Iranian national coach on 29 March 2009. He was replaced by Afshin Ghotbi. Iran failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup after ranking 4th overall in its group.
2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil
On 4 April 2011, former Real Madrid manager Carlos Queiroz agreed to a two-and-a-half-year deal to coach the Iranian national team until the end of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Under Queiroz, Iran began their World Cup qualification campaign successfully, defeating the Maldives 4–0 in the first leg of their second round of qualifiers. After winning 5–0 on aggregate, Iran advanced to the third round of qualifiers, where they were drawn with Indonesia, Qatar and Bahrain. Iran highlighted their position at the top of their group by defeating Bahrain 6–0 at home in the Azadi Stadium, as well as inviting former German youth international, Ashkan Dejagah, who scored twice on his debut against Qatar. After a 4–1 win at Indonesia, Iran qualified for the final round of direct qualifiers, the fourth round. In the fourth round, Iran was drawn with South Korea, Qatar, Uzbekistan, and Lebanon in their group. Queiroz made new foreign-based additions to his squad, adding players such as Reza Ghoochannejhad to his team. Iran started their fourth round of Asian qualifiers with a 1–0 win in Uzbekistan. Team Melli then drew Qatar and lost in Lebanon before defeating South Korea at the Azadi on 16 October with a goal from captain Javad Nekounam. After a 1–0 loss in Tehran against Uzbekistan, Iran defeated Qatar 1–0 in Doha and Lebanon 4–0 at home. In their last qualification match, Iran defeated South Korea 1–0 in Ulsan Munsu with a goal from Ghoochannejhad, resulting in their qualification to the 2014 FIFA World Cup as group winners with 16 points. Thus, Iran became the third team that Queiroz has managed to qualify for the World Cup, having reached the 2002 edition with South Africa and the 2010 edition with Portugal, leading the latter to a knockout stage finish. Iran continued their winning streak, securing qualification to the 2015 Asian Cup months later as well.
2018 FIFA World Cup qualification
Iran began their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign with friendly matches against Chile and Sweden in March 2015. Queiroz resigned from his managerial post thereafter due to disagreements with the Iranian Football Federation. On 14 April 2015, Iran were drawn with Oman, India, Turkmenistan, and Guam in the second round of qualifiers. On 26 April, Queiroz announced that he will continue as the manager of Iran for their 2018 World Cup campaign.
Iran became the 2nd team to qualify World Cup 2018, after a 2-0 win at home over Uzbekistan on June 12, 2017. They also clinched 1st place in their qualification group after South Korea’s defeat to Qatar.
Iran and South Korea are sporting rivals and have played against each other officially since 1958, totally 29 matches as of October 2016, including eight World Cup qualifiers. These two teams were among the strongest Asian national football teams during the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, the teams have developed one of Asia’s greatest rivalries. Although the teams only had one chance to play against each other in the final match of the AFC Asian Cup, in 1972, they faced each other five consecutive times at the quarterfinals stage from 1996–2011. Iran leads the series with 13 wins, 7 draws and 9 losses.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are rivals. The game has been ranked 9th in Bleacher Report’s “International Football’s 10 Most Politically-Charged Football Rivalries” and 8th in Goal.com’s “Football’s 10 Greatest International Rivalries”.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have had 15 matches so far. All of their matches have been competitive and they have never played a friendly match. The first match was played on 24 August 1975, with Iran defeating Saudi Arabia 3–0. Iran leads the series with 5 wins, 6 draws and 4 losses.
Emotions are always high when Iran and Iraq meet on the football pitch. The rivalry is not such a football-inspired ill-feeling between the two, but more of geography, religion and history. Iran and Iraq are neighboring countries, sharing a long history. In the contemporary era, especially during the reign of Saddam Hussein, the two countries had bad relations and fought the Iran–Iraq War for 8 years. In 2001, for the first time in decades, an Iran-Iraq match was not held at a neutral venue. The rivalry was escalated after Iraq knocked Iran out of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in controversial circumstances; Iran lodged a complaint to the AFC that one of Iraq’s players had submitted a positive doping test months before, hoping to see Iraq removed from the tournament and themselves reinstated in their place, but the complaint was rejected. Iran leads the series with 14 wins, 7 draws and 5 losses.