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Tactical Iran face uphill battle in World Cup

Despite their limitations, the underdog Iranians showed a commendable collective effort in defending against and taking space away from the Nigerians

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Monday’s match against Nigeria was Iran’s debut in this year’s World Cup. It was definitely not the most exciting match in the competition so far. The 0 - 0 draw was dull and sometimes even hard to watch. There was very little excitement during the game.

Nevertheless, despite their limitations, the underdog Iranians showed a commendable collective effort in defending against and taking space away from the Nigerians. The effectiveness of their system of play may be indicative of the sound tactical guidance they are receiving from their head coach, Carlos Queiroz.

The Mozambique-born Queiroz worked for many years with Alex Ferguson during his reign at Manchester United. The Portuguese coach is known in coaching circles for his remarkable tactical acumen and overall knowledge of the game. In the past, he has had stints with the United Arab Emirates, Real Madrid and Portugal, whom he coached during the last World Cup.

His players will need all his experience when they take the field Saturday in Belo Horizonte to play Argentina, a significantly more formidable opponent than Nigeria.

In Iran’s first match, the Nigerians kept possession of the ball throughout both halves, but Iran was tactically the better team, maintaining a better defensive organization and more consistently covering space and playing without the ball.

For most of the match, which was played in the milder climate of Curitiba rather than the more hostile humid climate of Manaus and Recife, the crowd seemed to be on the side of the Nigerians, but at times the spectators seemed frustrated by the inability of the African team to break through. Their inability to move the ball forward could in part be credited to the tactical scheme executed to perfection by Queiroz’s players, who gave the Nigerians little space to maneuver.

In fact, the Iranians were able to keep their defensive shape intact for all 90 minutes of play. The Iranians really “closed down the house”—or, better yet, “parked the bus” in front of the goal. And despite failing to keep possession of the ball as well as their opponents, they were on par with the Nigerians physically.

There were very few scoring opportunities over the course of the game. The best chance in the first half of the match belonged to an Iranian player, Charlton Athletic striker Reza Ghoochannejhad, but his header from a corner was brilliantly stopped by the Nigerian goalkeeper. The best opportunity in the second half fell to Nigeria’s Shola Ameobi, who entered the game early in that half.

But that was it. It was not a fruitful event for those who had expected a football spectacle. For the most part, the game was devoid of any appealing style from either side. Nigeria has not won even one of their last eight World Cup matches, last emerging victorious against Bulgaria in 1998, and Iran has played in only two previous World Cups, in 1978, when they tiedScotland, and in 1998, when they beat the United States. They have never advanced to the second round of competition.

For Iran to prevail against Argentina will be no easy task, and facing Bosnia in their last match of the group phase will allow them no respite. Bosnia, possessing some talented players, put up a good fight against Argentina, and they are also looking for a chance to move to the second round of the tournament. They will be going to battle against Nigeria in their second match to keep their dream alive. For the Iranians, progressing to the second round of the tournament may be an uphill battle. To advance out of the group stage, they will have to play the match of their lives against both Argentina and Bosnia. And they may just have to rely even more on the tactical guidance of their mastermind, Carlos Queiroz.

Ricardo Guerra is a journalist and blogger with degrees in political science, international relations, and physiology. His articles have appeared in several international publications in five different languages, and his writing covers topics related to medicine, science, sports, politics, and current events.