After their brave displays at Russia 2018, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan assesses if Iran can do even better in Qatar when the 2022 FIFA World Cup comes around.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup may have only just ended but, given how this edition was widely hailed as the best ever, it is only natural that many are already looking ahead to Qatar in four years’ time.
For Asia, Russia 2018 also marked an important milestone given it not only marked the first time it had five representatives present on world football’s biggest stage, but Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Korea Republic also combined for the continent’s best-ever performance with a collective four wins and three draws.
As ever, the conclusion of the World Cup also brings about plenty of upheaval with several experienced names calling it a day after one final World Cup appearance, while many up-and-coming youngsters also use the tournament to establish themselves as genuine international stars.
Looking ahead to the 2022 World Cup: Saudi Arabia
In the second part of our “Looking ahead to the 2022 World Cup” series, FOX Sports Asia delves deeper into what the future holds for Iran.
What happened in Russia?
Despite being dealt an extremely tough hand, Iran got their Group B campaign off to a dream start by beating Morocco 1-0 courtesy of a 95th-minute winner.
Not much was expected from them thereafter but they gave an excellent account of themselves in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Spain before bowing out despite a 1-1 draw against European champions Portugal, who were led by a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Likely key departures (ages in 2022): Masoud Shojaei (38), Ashkan Dejagah (36), Reza Ghoochannejhad (34)*, Sardar Azmoun (27)*, Omid Ebrahimi (34), Vahid Amiri (34)
*Sardar Azmoun and Reza Ghoochannejhad have already announced their retirements from international football.
Potential starting XI at next World Cup (ages in 2022)
GK: Alireza Beiranvand (29)
RB: Ramin Rezaeian (32)
CB: Morteza Pouraliganji (30)
CB: Majid Hosseini (26)
LB: Milad Mohammadi (29)
CM: Saeid Ezatolahi (25)
CM: Ehsan Hajsafi (32)
AM: Mohammad Sharifi (22)
RF: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (28)
LF: Mehdi Taremi (29)
CF: Karim Ansarifard (32)
Up-and-coming prospects (ages in 2022): Younes Delfi (21), Omid Noorakfan (25), Mohammad Sharifi (22)
Forecast for Qatar 2022
In the immediate aftermath of their Russian exploits, Team Melli were rocked by the international retirements of Reza Ghoochannejhad and Sardar Azmoun – the latter still only being 23.
There is hope that Azmoun will eventually reverse his decision and go on to lead Iran for another decade at least, but stalwarts like Masoud Shojaei and Ashkan Dejagah are unlikely to be around for much longer.
But the huge positive for the Iranians is that the core of the starting XI from this World Cup are currently in their mid-20s and should continue to be integral members for the next four years, including dynamic midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi, cultured centre-back Morteza Pouraliganji and flying forward Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
And, with rising starlets such as Mohammad Sharifi and Younes Delfi shining in Iran’s run to last year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup, Team Melli could even welcome a fresh injection of youth ahead of Qatar 2022.