Fox Sports – TEHRAN, Not since the old days of ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ has a team looked as comfortable while sitting on a one-goal cushion as Iran do at the moment. It would have been fitting if that had been chanted by the almost 100,000 fans at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Tuesday.
The win by that scoreline over China and Marcello Lippi keeps the team four points clear at the top of Group A with three games to go. A win over Uzbekistan at home on June 12 will be enough.
How can it be that you score six goals in seven games yet you dominate your World Cup group to the extent that you are not only going to be the first in Asia to qualify but likely to do so with two games remaining?
This is Iran on the road to Russia. This is a team that has yet to concede in 630 minutes of Group A football in the final round of qualification (look back to the second round and that extends to 928 minutes). This is a team that has recorded four 1-0 wins.
Yet this is no Asian version of the often-dour Arsenal that ground their way to to English success in the late eighties and early nineties.
It is a team that should have won most of them by more, because if they are guilty of anything, it is missing chances. This is despite having some of the best strikers in Asia. It is just that unlike many others, Iran don’t sweat it when the extra goals don’t come.
This is just one of the reasons why Iran are not just the highest ranked team in Asia according to FIFA and have been for the last four years. Iran are simply the best team in Asia.
It is not Australia, it is not South Korea and it is not Japan. It is Iran.
Another is Carlos Queiroz. The coach has been in charge since 2011. There have been a few resignations along the way and more threats to resign and run-ins with the Iranian Football Federation (IFF) but the couple always get back together.
They need each other. The IFF know that they are on the brink of a first-ever successive World Cup appearance and much of it is down to the coach. Officials may find him hard to deal with sometimes and he has a few enemies inside the body and at the Ministry of Sport.
But when he delivers such professional performances and such consistent results, then they will shake his hand again and again, while checking out flights to Russia.
The former Real Madrid coach complains about his employers too though in a much more public and open fashion. Yet the Mozambique-born manager loves the country, the fans and the team he has fashioned.
Earlier this year he announced he was leaving, accusing the federation of failing to back him after his public row with Branko Ivankovic, coach of one of Tehran’s giant clubs Persepolis.
He was never going to leave with Iran so close even then to a making history and qualifying for a first ever successive World Cup. Queiroz has come so far in Tehran and he is not about to give someone else a chance to lead the team to Russia and glory.
He has worked hard and it goes without saying that Team Melli are well-organised. The players know that the coach almost guarantees Russia and follow his instructions to the letter.
Strikers such as Sardar Azmoun and Reza Ghoochannejhad are the envy of much of Asia. Then there is Alireza Jahan bakhsh and the under-rated Mehdi Taremi.
Taremi is less eye-catching than the others and there were some mutterings about Queiroz selecting the Persepolis striker. Yet the 24-year-old works incredibly hard without the ball and when he has it, has found the net seven times during qualification so far.
He is part of a hard-working and fine-tuned unit with talented players led by a competent coach. That is why Iran are the best team in Asia at the moment. It is not just a team that is going to go to the World Cup but it is the one team in the continent at the moment that has what it takes to perform well in Russia.
This is the difference. If Australia, Korea and Japan qualify, there has been little so far to suggest that any one of these three has what it takes to reach the knockout stage.
Iran can. This is not just about getting there –they are going to be there –but what happens when you arrive. If Iran get to the second round in Russia thanks to a string of 1-0 wins, nobody will be complaining.
Iran are setting the standards and it is for the rest of Asia to catch up with the continent’s best team.