Iran’s biggest X-factor is their vastly experienced coach, Carlos Queiroz, who has been associated with Iran since 2011. He is the main reason Iran will be successfully competing in a World Cup back to back for the first time in their history. Everyone remembers their solid performance against Messi’s Argentina in the last World Cup. With a host of player plying their trade in Europe, this time also they will try to emulate the same performances like the last World Cup. They arrive at this World Cup as one of the most impressive sides in Asian qualification but will be facing Spain, Portugal, and Morocco in a potential group of death.
Key player: Alireza Jahanbaksh
He will enter this world cup in red-hot form having scored 21 goals and providing 12 assists in his 33 appearances for the Eredivisie club, AZ Alkmaar. This speedy right winger can cause trouble in any defence and has the ability to beat the goalkeeper on a regular basis. Although their previous World Cup hero Ashkan Dejagah is still calling the shots for Iranian team, Alireza may have just taken over the mantle from Dejagah to be the main man for the team.
Young player to watch out: Sardar Azmoun
If Iran were able to cause a major upset in this World Cup, it will be down to this player to be the catalyst for it. He is just 23 years old and 5th highest goalscorer for Iran already. He has an eye-popping 23 goals in just 32 appearances for the team. He was dubbed “Iranian Messi” at a very early stage and thus far lived up to his expectations with his performances. He’s 6-foot-1 and a big target man for the long balls from the back. He already has many suitors in Lazio, Arsenal and other big clubs and he will be trying to use this World Cup to increase his stakes.
World Cup predictions:
Just like Morocco, Iran will be hoping to win their first match against the same opposition and hoping to secure at least one draw against the likes of Spain and Portugal. As the Spain camp goes in disarray just 2 days before their first match, anyone could be trying their luck against them. However, a third position in the group is more realistic for team Iran.
Iceland caused a major shock against England in their round of 16 matches in Euro 2016. Since then they have been a fans favorite team with their swashbuckling football and thunderclap celebrations at the end of the match. They have a population of mere 300 thousand but they overcame the odds to play in their first ever World Cup tournament. They are the first country in World Cup history to have less than a million people and successfully make it compete on football’s biggest stage. Simply put, Iceland may be the coolest thing that ever happened to the World Cup in its entire history.
Key player: Gylfi Sigurdsson
Who else but him? He is the most well-known player among all Icelandic players. This Everton midfielder is their highest paid player and his performances for Everton this season showed us why. He has been named Icelandic Footballer of the Year for the past six years.
Young player to watch out: Albert Gudmundsson
He will be turning 21 the day before Iceland’s World Cup debut. He is a rising star in Eredivisie’s PSV Eindhoven. There will be a lot of expectations from this young winger in this World Cup and we will be hoping for him to deliver them.
World Cup predictions:
Iceland could’ve really hoped for any group other than this for their maiden World Cup journey. They are drawn in the group of death, literally. With strong and seasoned World Cup teams like Argentina, Nigeria and Croatia in their group, only a diehard fan of Iceland would fancy their chances of advancing further from the group stage. But if that England game and Euro 2016 taught us anything, it is not to underestimate Iceland against bigger and better oppositions. The team’s passion is addictive, their strength is praiseworthy and their underdog status makes them neutral fans favorite. This is Iceland, the land of Viking warriors.