Asian World Cup Icons: Ali Daei – An Asian Treasure

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

In the third of our series on Asian World Cup icons, “Same Same But Different: Your Asian Football Show” looks back at the celebrated career of Ali Daei.

Considering he never scored a single goal at the tournament, Ali Daei is perhaps a curious choice as an Asian icon of the FIFA World Cup.

But few players can match the way he flew the flag for Iran, both as an ambassador in European football as well as leading Team Melli on the global stage.

After breaking onto the scene in his homeland with Persepolis and spending time in Qatar with Al Sadd, Daei got his big break in 1997 when he joined Arminia Bielefeld, who were then playing in the Bundesliga.

He only stayed there for one season before trading up for Bayern Munich, winning the Bundesliga and DFB-Ligapokal with them in 1998/99, and was also an unused substitute in their heart-breaking loss to Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League final.

Once again, Daei was on the move that summer and had three successful years with Hertha Berlin, even netting four goals in 13 Champions League games including a match-winning double against Chelsea.

Still, it was on the international stage where he really secured his place in footballing folkore, as he is currently the all-time leading scorer in international football with his tally of 109 goals in 149 caps, 25 more than the next best – the legendary Hungarian Ferenc Puskas.

36 of those came in World Cup qualifiers spread across four campaigns – 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 – and two of those ended in Team Melli securing their place on world football’s biggest stage.

And, although Daei failed to score at both France 1998 and Germany 2006, it did little to tarnish his reputation as one of Asian football’s all-time greats to appear at a World Cup.