In our ultimate build-up to AFC Asian Cup 2019, FOX Sports Asia provides the lowdown on all 24 teams and we take a closer look at Iran in this preview.
Despite being barely given a chance when the 2018 FIFA World Cup draw was first made, Iran nearly produced one of the greatest shocks ever back in June when they beat Morocco, narrowly lost 1-0 to Spain and drew with Portugal 1-1 to just miss out on a place in the Round of 16.
Those performances immediately saw many install them as one of the favourites for AFC Asian Cup 2019 and it is easy to see why.
In Carlos Queiroz, Team Melli have a coach with no shortage of international experience and he is also blessed with a plethora of quality players, many of which currently ply their trade in Europe.
But, will they have enough to seal a first continental crown since their three consecutive triumphs from 1968 to 1976?
FOX Sports Asia’s AFC Asian Cup 2019 Previews
– United Arab Emirates
– Kyrgyz Republic
– Saudi Arabia
– Korea Republic
– DPR Korea
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Captain: Masoud Shojaei
Best performance at Asian Cup: Champions (1968, 1972, 1976)
Last time out in 2015: Quarter-finals (Lost 7-6 on penalties to Iraq after 3-3 draw)
January 7: Iran v Yemen (Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 8pm local time)
January 12: Vietnam v Iran (Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi – 3pm local time)
January 16: Vietnam v Yemen (Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain – 8pm local time)
THE KEY PLAYER – SARDAR AZMOUN
Sardar Azmoun caused quite the uproar in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup when he announced his international retirement at the age of 23, although the subsequent reversal of his decision comes as a huge boost to Team Melli.
Having played his club football in Russia for the past seven years now, Azmoun has plenty of European experience and even netted against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.
But Azmoun offers Iran so much more than just goals, especially with his tireless pressing of opposition defenders, intelligent movement and ability to bring his team-mates into the game.
THE YOUNG STAR – MAJID HOSSEINI
With combative midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi ruled out with injury, it will now be down to Majid Hosseini to lead the way for Iran’s younger brigade.
Still only 22, the powerfully-built centre-back already has experience of taking on Spain and Portugal at the World Cup after coming in for the injured Rouzbeh Cheshmi and looked at ease playing alongside the equally-impressive Morteza Pouraliganji.
Hosseini did enough to convince Trabzonspor to make a move for his services and he has – thus far – not disappointed in his first season in the Turkish Super Lig.
Like Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia, Iran are one of the traditional heavyweights of Asian football who just have not reclaimed their place in the tournament in recent times.
Nonetheless, after their spirited performances at Russia 2018, Team Melli have to be regarded as genuine contenders this time around.
With quality in every position on the field, it is difficult to see Iran failing to reach the semi-finals at the very least yet they could easily go all the way.