Iran’s Journey to Russia… At the Crossroads to Heaven

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1,529 views (Behrou G.)  It was less than four months ago that Iran’s journey to Russia started at the “Door to Hell“.  A simple phrase coined in the first article of this series was echoed by national media and turned it into a self-fulfilling prophecy of Team Melli’s World Cup qualifying opener against Turkmenistan.

It was only befitting that we skipped a pre-match article or raising any red flags before Team Melli’s encounter against Oman, since the Reds had defeated Queiroz’s men in a previous encounter – to no avail, as Iran concluded the first half of the qualifiers with an identical and disappointing result.

But with three of Team Melli’s remaining four qualifiers to be played in Iran, away from the hellish temperatures of Oman and Turkmenistan’s desolate door to hell, opponents will certainly be facing a daunting and uphill battle in the land of the Children of Heaven.

Team Melli will start the second half of the qualifiers against Turkmenistan on November 12th at Azadi stadium with an inspirational view of the Alborz mountains, aiming to define the boundaries that set them apart from their opponents in the same fashion the mythical Arash defined the boundaries between Iran and Touran.

The Turkmens are flying high after the first leg, and boasting an impressive 2-4-0 (W-D-L) unbeaten record against Team Melli in FIFA matches, they are hoping to take Iran by storm again.  But a desert storm in Daşoguz is no more than the pleasant breeze of Saba (the wind from the North East) in Tehran.

And this encounter is indeed expected to be a breeze for Team Melli…  While Iran anxiously tried to secure more goals in the first leg, in what was reminiscent of the plot of the Children of Heaven and Ali’s relentless efforts to secure a pair of shoes for his sister Zahra, the Tehran clash promises to parallel the success of the movie itself – an Oscar nomination and countless awards!

Carlos Queiroz has already promised some surprises in the roster and the fans are hoping to see that translated into success on the field and a pleasantly surprising scoreline.  Charlton Athletics’ striker Reza Ghoochannejhad has recovered from injury and is expected to be back in action for Iran.

Also back from injury and a hiatus from Team Melli is talented AZ Alkmaar winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh who looks to finally solidify his position in the team with a stellar performance.  Out with injuries are defenders Vouria Ghafouri and Jalal Hosseini and FC Rostov striker Sardar Azmoun.

In keeping with the theme from the Japan friendly in October, Queiroz may also give the veteran captain Andarnik Teymourian a rest in favour of the promising FC Rostov midfielder Saeid Ezzatollahi who is looking for his first start in a competitive match for Team Melli at the age of 19.

Queiroz may be wise to utilize a more calm and calculated gameplan with emphasis on maintaining possession, deep penetrating runs and pouncing on Turkmenistan’s defensive errors, rather than the anxious and hurried waves of attack from the wings that failed to produce the desired result in the first leg.

Ironically, a 4-1-3-1-1 “crucifix” formation may prove to be a more heavenly gameplan for Team Melli in this match since the usual 4-2-3-1 has skewed more into a 3-5-2 after the departure of captain Javad Nekounam.  The inclusion of Mehdi Sharifi behind pacey Ghoochannejhad would fit well with this formation and his long range shooting abilities would add some depth to Iran’s offense.

It remains to be seen whether Team Melli fans will borrow a few lines from the renowned Persian poet Rumi to make a fitting chant for this match… “We are higher than heaven, more noble than the angels. Why not go beyond them?”

But what is almost certain is that Turkmenistan will leave their dreams of World Cup qualification and unbeaten record against Team Melli dead and buried at the crossroads to heaven and Tehran’s famous cemetery, Behesht-e-Zahra [Zahra’s Heaven]!

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