Iran vs. Montenegro: 6 Things We Learned from Goalless Friendly Draw
Iran played out a 0-0 draw against Montenegro in an international friendly in Austria on Monday as they continued their preparations for this summer's World Cup in Brazil.
Clear-cut chances were few and far between for Carlos Queiroz's men, as they notched a second goalless draw on the bounce in their pre-tournament friendlies—they tied 0-0 with Belarus eight days ago.
They will be playing two more warm-up matches, against Austria and Trinidad and Tobago, before starting their World Cup campaign in Group F alongside Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Here are six things we learned from the 0-0 draw between Iran and Montenegro.
Periods of Domination for Iran
There might not have been any goals in Monday's friendly, but Iran did find themselves well on top at times in the friendly encounter.
Charlton Athletic's Reza Ghoochannejhad was Iran's main threat up front, as he headed just wide before half-time, while Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah sent in a curling free kick on around the half-hour mark that tested Mladen Bozovic in the Montenegro goal.
There were two chances for midfielder Masoud Shojaei that he failed to take full advantage of, and the Iranians failed to hit the target with a few other attempts on goal.
The buildup play from Queiroz's men was at times flowing and smooth, and it hinted that they could pose some sort of a threat in the World Cup group stages in June.
Experience in Abundance in the Midfield
A look through the Iranian World Cup squad reflects their strength in the middle of the park, and it showed on Monday.
Javad Nekounam, the legendary midfield general with 37 goals from 138 caps and who starred for Osasuna in a six-year stint in Spain, put in a solid shift in the middle of the park. Andranik Teymourian, who turned out for Bolton Wanderers and Fulham in the Premier League, provided more experience in a solid midfield core.
UD Las Palmas' Masoud Shojaei adds a threat from long distance, while we saw the effectiveness of Dejagah's direct running as he was one of Fulham's few bright spots in their doomed Premier League campaign last season.
A solid combination of starting midfielders whose quality and experience were apparent against Montenegro.
A Lack of a Cutting Edge Let Iran Down
The problem that Queiroz must solve, however, is their lack of a consistent goalscorer up front.
Ghoochannejhad is not that man. He might have nine goals in just 12 appearances for his national team, but among them, just one came against opposition of note (South Korea in 2013) and he failed to light up the Championship with Charlton since joining the Addicks this January.
Regular starter Karim Ansarifard, with eight goals in 40 caps and frequently named as the successor to Iranian legend Ali Daei, found himself on the bench—but will presumably feature more prominently as Queiroz continues to tinker in his upcoming friendlies.
Besides Ghoochannejhad and Ansarifard, Iran's three other options up front have between them eight caps and no international goals.
First in Asia, but Much to Improve
According to the FIFA World Rankings, as of May 8, 2014, Iran are the highest-ranked team in Asia—ahead of traditional powerhouses like Japan and South Korea—a strong endorsement for their strength and recent performances.
With a strong midfield and a relatively experienced defence, Iran enjoyed a smooth qualification campaign—finishing first in their third-round group that also featured Qatar. More impressive was their showing in the fourth qualification round, however, as they finished top in a challenging group with South Korea, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Lebanon.
There were glimpses of Iran's quality and experience on Monday. They found themselves close to breaking the deadlock and even extending it against Montenegro—but they have lots to do before they can convince critics and doubters that they can make their presence felt in Brazil.
Benchmarking Their Montenegrin Opponents
Iran's opponents, Montenegro, finished third in their World Cup qualification group behind England and Ukraine, and thus missed out on a place in this summer's tournament.
Montenegro are a side not short in quality themselves, and it may be damning to know that head coach Branko Brnovic put out a team far short of their regular first team on Monday.
But how do they measure up against Iran's opponents in their World Cup group this June?
Ranked 54th in the most recent FIFA World Rankings, Montenegro find themselves behind all of Iran's group-stage rivals: Nigeria are the lowest ranked in 44th, while Bosnia and Herzegovina are 25th and Argentina seventh.
It doesn't help that Iran's remaining friendlies ahead of the World Cup are against Angola and Trinidad and Tobago (94th and 74th, respectively), far from relevant opposition.
Much to Do for Carlos Queiroz and Co.
With this in mind, there is still much to do for Iran yet.
Belarus and Montenegro perhaps posed the biggest tests to Queiroz's men in their pre-World Cup friendly fixtures, and both of them ended in goalless draws.
Anything but composed wins over Angola and Trinidad and Tobago could suggest a group-stage exit for Iran this summer and damage squad morale to the extent that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Yet, considering that Iran were the dominant side for periods in their friendly on Monday, perhaps Queiroz's most immediate objective in the remaining weeks is to get his attack to jell and produce reliable output.
If that happens and he manages to coax a few goals out of his forwards, perhaps they could still spring a few surprises in June.