MNA – Iran’s national football team learned rivals in the final round of qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and hopes are high for winning a direct quota for the third time in a row.
The draw for this stage of qualifiers was held on Thursday and Team Melli has been drawn along with the Korea Republic, the UAE, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon in Group A.
Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, China and Vietnam are the other six teams at this stage that compete in Group B.
The top two teams of each group will win direct tickets to Qatar 2022 and third-placed teams will go to playoff matches.
What does history tell about Iran’s matches against rivals?
Taking a look at the history of matches held between Iran and other Group A members may help us better understand the balance of power in the group.
The two Asian powerhouse teams have locked horns 31 times in their history. Iran has won 13 and Korea 9 and the remaining 9 matches ended with a draw.
The latest match was held in June 2019 in a friendly encounter that ended 1-1 in Seoul.
One of the interesting points is that Iran and South Korea were also in the same group for the 2010, 2014, and 2018 World Cup qualifiers. In the total of six matches during these qualifiers, Team Melli gained three victories and settled for three draws.
Analysts believe South Korea was a better draw for Iran compared to Australia since Team Melli is familiar with the traditional rival.
Iran and the UAE have held 16 official matches, resulting in 12 victories for Iran, one victory for the UAE, and three draws.
Their latest match was in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in which Team Melli gained a 1-0 victory.
Historically speaking, the UAE has never been a major challenger of Iranian football – unlike other teams such as Bahrain and Iraq – however, one should not underestimate Bert van Marwijk’s team which has advanced to this stage as Group G winners of the previous round.
UAE and Saudi Arabia were in Pot 3 of the Thursday draw and many experts and fans inside Iran are happy with this draw as Saudi Arabia is assumed to be a fiercer rival.
Out of 29 matches between Iran and Iraq, the Persian Leopards have secured 16 wins, conceded six defeats, and had 7 draws.
Team Melli ended the 7-year winning draught against Iraq on June 15, 2021, in the second round of qualifiers with a 1-0 win. The draught had started since the 2015 AFC Asian quarterfinals in Australia where Iraq won in penalty shootouts.
Considering that Iran has recently faced Iraq and players have a high spirit after the latest win, it seems that Iraq can be a better draw against China that were both in the Pot 4.
Iran has taken on Syria 28 times and the results were 16 wins for Iran, one win for Syria, and 11 draws.
Syria’s sole victory dates back to qualifiers for the 1974 World Cup and the latest victory for Iran was gained in March 2021 in a friendly match in Tehran that ended 5-0.
Out of 10 official matches between the two teams, Iran has gained eight victories, conceded one defeat, and settled for a draw. The latest match was held in qualifiers for the 2015 AFC Asian cup which ended with a 4-1 victory for Iran in Beirut.
Will AFC recognize Iran’s right to hosting matches?
In a controversial decision, the AFC, citing concerns around COVID-19 pandemic and other reasons, decided to stage the previous stage of qualifiers in Bahrain’s Manama despite the fact that Iran was officially the host of three matches.
The AFC officials say US sanctions against Iran have created serious obstacles for financial transactions and the presence of AFC sponsors in Iran. Meanwhile, the Asian football body announced that stadiums hosting the next stage of qualifiers should be equipped with the VAR system.
Considering sanctions and financial problems of the Iranian federation it seems hard for the body to install such a system in less than three months that remain to start of the competitions.
This could result in choosing a neutral venue for Iran's matches which can be detrimental to the performance of the team.
Here is the fixture of Iran’s matches in this stage:
Sept. 2, 2021: Iran v Syria
Sept. 7, 2021: Iraq v Iran
Oct. 7, 2021: UAE v Iran
Oct. 12, 2021: Iran v South Korea
Nov. 11, 2021: Lebanon v Iran
Nov. 16, 2021: Syria v Iran
Jan. 27, 2022: Iran v Iraq
Feb. 1, 2022: Iran v UAE
March 24, 2022: South Korea v Iran
March 29, 2022: Iran v Lebanon
By: Mohammad Ali Haqshenas