AFC – KUALA LUMPUR, Under long-serving head coach Carlos Queiroz, the Islamic Republic of Iran have undoubtedly been about the collective rather than the individual, but in Alireza Jahanbakhsh they possess a star with the potential to illuminate the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
In recent years, Russia-based forward Sardar Azmoun has been where the hype has centred, but that started to change during the 2017-18 season when right-sided midfielder Jahanbakhsh finished as top scorer in the Netherlands’ Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar.
Nationality: IR Iran
Date of birth: 11/08/1993
Current club: Brighton & Hove Albion (England)
Previous clubs: AZ Alkmaar, NEC (both Netherlands), Damash Gilan, Damash Tehran (both Iran)
The Qazvin-native has long been a favourite of Queiroz, who took the then 20-year-old to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, where, as the youngest player in Team Melli’s squad, he came off the bench in all three of his country’s group stage matches.
A year later he was part of the squad that reached the knockout rounds of the AFC Asian Cup in Australia, where he scored from the spot in the quarter-final defeat to neighbours Iraq – a game regarded as one of the competition’s all-time classics.
By the time the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup rolled round, Jahanbakhsh was a key component in the national team set-up and helped Team Melli advance to the global showpiece following a highly impressive unbeaten campaign.
Style of play
Usually deployed on the right side of midfield, Jahanbakhsh is, like so many of his Iran teammates, hugely industrious, something that was on show for the world to see in Russia as Team Melli gave Spain and Portugal an almighty scare.
But, having moved to the Netherlands as a teenager in 2013, year by year the midfielder has added goals to his game. Twenty-one for AZ Alkmaar saw him finish as the Erevisie’s leading scorer in the 2017-18 campaign, while he was also third in the assists charts.
With goals, assists and industry it was unsurprising that Europe’s bigger leagues took notice, and it was English Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion who snapped him up for a club record fee in July 2018.
What to look for
Jahanbakhsh was reportedly carrying a slight injury during the FIFA World Cup, but performed well as Iran’s typically solid unit set out to nullify opponents. Only when chasing the game in their final group stage fixture against Portugal did Iran truly open up and show their quality as an attacking outfit.
With Azmoun, Karim Ansarifard, Mehdi Taremi and, of course, Jahanbakhsh, Team Melli have a wealth of talent going forward and, as one of the tournament favourites, many will hope they set out to attack in the UAE.
The wide man has yet to transfer his goalscoring feats from club to country but all eyes will be on him come Iran’s opening game against Yemen in Abu Dhabi, and Iranian fans will be expecting both Jahanbakhsh and Azmoun, in particular, to realise their potential on the Continental stage.
Forty-two years have passed since Team Melli last won the AFC Asian Cup – too long for such a giant of the Asian game – and if that drought is to end, the amiable midfielder will need to be at his best.