Iraq’s two recent wins over Cambodia and Hong Kong have put them in pole position to qualify for the next stage of World Cup Qualifiers. However, awaiting Iraq in the final match of Group C is Iran, who have recently had a change of fortune since their difficult start to the qualification campaign. A change of manager has led to Iran winning three games consecutively and challenging Iraq for top spot. It’s highly likely that both sides will make it through to the next round, unless a dominant Iraq win sends the Iranian side packing their bags early. Iraq have beaten Iran three times in the last five years, drawing one and losing zero. We sat down and discussed the upcoming clash with the wonderful Arya Allahverdi from the Gol Bezan Podcast:
What have you made of Group C so far?
Despite the interruption from COVID-19, Group C has been a competitive group with Bahrain, Iraq and Iran all battling for the top 2 spots. Hong Kong has been a surprise, they have not made things easy by all accounts for everyone, whereas Cambodia have unexpectedly been the easy team.
Current Group C Standings
From an Iranian perspective, we expected to be clear group leader up until now when the groups were announced, especially with the great success under Carlos Queiroz. However, the short and unsuccessful reign of Marc Wilmots proved to be quite the opposite as we lost both matches against Bahrain and Iraq. The team looked disorganised, demotivated and lacking an element of progression and development since Queiroz left with the likes of Masoud Shojaei starting against Iraq and getting a red card for his troubles. On top of that he left out the likes of Alireza Jahanbakhsh from the squad and kept the talented Ali Gholizadeh on the bench.
How have Iran looked under their new manager?
Dragan Skočić, Iran’s new head coach arrived in early 2020 and since his appointment has been able to fix many of the issues Iran had under Wilmots by bringing in the addition of young talents such as Mehdi Ghayedi, Ali Gholizadeh and Sadegh Moharrami, whilst the old guard of Masoud Shojaei, Ashkan Dejagah and Ramin Rezaeian have been shown the door.
Who are Iran’s biggest threat?
Iran’s biggest threat against Iraq has to be the front two of Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi. Playing as a front two pairing is slightly new for them as Taremi generally played wide left under Queiroz and Wilmots. Both players are coming off very prolific seasons in Russia and Portugal as well as in the UEFA Champions League. With the likes of Saman Ghoddos, Ali Gholizadeh being the supporting players, they could find themselves in many goalscoring opportunities.
Which player from the Iraq squad would you like to have in your squad?
The player I would take from this Iraq team is Safaa Hadi. Not only is he the only player currently playing in Europe but also Iran is lacking a hard-working midfielder, who also has the quality on the ball. Vahid Amiri is currently the player that comes to mind; however, he is out of the match on Tuesday with an injury.
As an Iran fan, what are your fondest and worst memories of playing against Iraq?
My best and worst memory of playing Iraq comes from the same game in the 2015 Asian Cup Quarter Final. Reza Ghoochannejhad’s equaliser to take us to penalty shootouts and eventually losing to penalty. The game did not go without numerous controversies; however, the equalising goal was a huge relief and it made us believe we could go on and win in the shootouts, however it was not to be. Unfortunately, Iran have been unsuccessful against Iraq in recent years and despite being favourites on Tuesday, I am sure it will be play in the minds of some of the players, it all depends on how they deal with that.
What would an Iran win mean for you?
Putting all the politics aside, Iran vs Iraq is great footballing rivalry. The matches are always competitive and played with great passion, as a neutral, it would be exciting to watch, however for Iranians and Iraqis, incredibly stressful and tense. For me personally, I tend to keep myself detach from the rivalry side of things and think of it as another game we need to win. Tuesday is no different, we have an objective, and it just so happens Iraq are the team that we need to achieve it against. Having said that, I do want us to win for the bragging rights, since we feel hard done by from our previous coach, not playing our best team when he had them available for selection. We know Iraq can be tough opponents and can always cause us problems so we are expecting a cagey encounter, with the hope Iran comes on top.
IraqFootball.me would like to thank Arya and Gol Bezan for joining us for this discussion. You can follow Gol Bezan on Twitter and visit their website here for more news on Team Melli. We look forward to working with them once again on future projects soon.