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Iran’s draw with Nigeria: the first blank of the World Cup

Iran’s 0-0 draw with Nigeria was the first blank of the tournament so far

Published: Updated:

Iran’s 0-0 draw with Nigeria was the first blank of the tournament so far – and it was far from a classic encounter.

But Team Melli secured their first clean sheet at the World Cup, avoiding defeat in their first group match – an achievement not bettered in their last three visits to the finals. While many expect Bosnia to finish in second place, Iran, at least, stands with one point more than the Bosnians who lost against Argentina yesterday.

Next up, the Argentines with Lionel Messi on form are their opponents. It looks a daunting affair for a side with limited quality, but the defensive performance against Nigeria gives the Iranians strong confidence in the tactics of Carlos Queiroz.

Defensive tactics

The increased focus on preparation pre-tournament certainly looked as though it benefited the squad. Iran were tactically fluid, albeit completely in a defensive shape: Fulham attacker Ashkan Dejagah operated on the left from the start, moving central to support Reza Ghoochannejhad, then operating as a midfielder in the second-half.

It changed little in the overall context of the match, but as the Nigerians possessed impressive acceleration in certain players, Iran had to adapt. Naturally, Team Melli dropped deeper-and-deeper into a low, compact shape – but the Super Eagles played perfectly into the hands of the Iranians.

Ghoochannejhad: The outball

Ghoochannejhad has scored 10 international goals for Team Melli and the 26-year-old was always firing off long-range efforts to keep the “Shots on Goal”count high. Ambitious, perhaps, but the Charlton Athletic man was bound by a lack of support for most of the game.

All 5ft 11in of Ghoochannejhad proved an awkward test for the Nigerian central-defenders. He was the target at set-pieces because of the spring in his leap – he was denied in the first-half from a corner-kick – and even from throw-ins, he was tasked with strategically holding on to possession in more advanced areas of the pitch.

An unforgiving task, but Ghoochannejhad has a decent chance of getting his precious World Cup goal, so long as others support him in attacking transitions. One criticism of Queiroz could be that Alireza Jahanbakhsh should have been used earlier in the game with Dejagah beginning to fatigue around the hour-mark.

No possession? No problem

Over the 90 minutes, Iran had 33 percent possession. The figure fluctuated during the match, but Team Melli were barely close to 50 percent at any point in the game over any particular time frame. The onus on delivering with the ball was purely on the Super Eagles.

Nigeria was ineffective in possession – too many square passes with little purpose or pace and lacking a generic strategy. In addition, Stephen Keshi’s side were persisting with a back-to-front, direct approach that played into Iran’s hands defensively.

In midfield, Iran’s two experienced stalwarts, Javad Nekounam and Andranik Teymourian, saw very little of the ball. But this was not a problem for Queiroz who instructed the pair to play destructive, ball-recovering roles and move it quickly to counter the Nigerians.

Nekounam sat very close to the back-four, closing any space between the lines for Nigeria to penetrate, while Teymourian had the licence to break play up in midfield with a more robust approach.

And so, even without having the ball, Iran’s midfield still forced a strong grip of proceedings.

Iran Pro League came out well

Many outsiders will have doubted the quality of the Iranian domestic system, but with two of Asia’s biggest clubs in the top-flight, they are regularly vying for superiority.

Left-sided midfielder Ehsan Hajsafi of Sepahan was a reasonably good performer for Team Melli in both attacking and defensive situations. Left-footed, the 24-year-old won several interceptions on the wing, but possessing the pace and stamina to join the attack at any opportunity. He has already made over 60 appearances for the national side.

On the right, 30-year-old Khosro Heydari boasts more experience with Tehran giants Esteghlal and he was solid defensively against the pace of Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa. Heydari’s club-mate, Amir Sadeghi, a 32-year-old central-defender, was equally disciplined and reliable in defence. While neither were eye-catching, the defensive performances will have given Queiroz some hope of being able to shut up shop against Argentina and Bosnia in the next group matches.