World Cup 2014: How Iran Will Line Up Against Nigeria
In one week's time, Iran will face Nigeria in their opening match at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Curitiba, Brazil.
Coach Carlos Queiroz has opted for a slightly more defensive squad than most other teams in Brazil, with some key injuries late in the process forcing him to reshuffle his plans.
Left-back Hashem Beikzadeh, who was a highly likely choice to start the opening match, limped off injured in the friendly against Montenegro, increasing the need for defensive cover in the squad.
Fortunately for Iran, it seems he will be fit and ready to go against Nigeria.
Otherwise, Queiroz has shown his preference for a 4-2-3-1 formation, which allows Iran to defend in numbers and counterattack through winger Ashkan Dejagah and forward Reza Ghoochannejhad.
Here is how Iran will likely start against Nigeria.
Davari, Eintracht Braunschweig's goalkeeper, just made his international debut against Thailand in November 2013, yet he has quickly become Iran's best option in goal.
Despite his relative inexperience, he has garnered praise in Germany, including from Jurgen Klopp. As such, Queiroz has opted to utilize his upside over the more experienced Rahman Ahmadi and Alireza Haghighi.
Against Nigeria, who boast the likes of Victor Moses, Shola Ameobi and Ahmed Musa up front, Davari is likely to be tested, especially given Iran's strategy of soaking up pressure and looking to strike on the counter.
Nigeria do not possess the attacking talent that Argentina or Bosnia have in their ranks, yet to underestimate the African champions would be extremely foolish.
Davari will need to be on top of his game for Iran to gain points from this match.
As previously mentioned, left-back Beikzadeh is expected to be fit and ready for Nigeria, and he may be asked to deal with Moses, the Chelsea winger (on loan last year to Liverpool) who poses one of Nigeria's biggest threats.
The centre-back pairing, barring injury, will be Jalal Hosseini and Amirhossein Sadeghi. These two played a huge role in protecting Iran's reputation as one of the stingiest defensive sides in Asian World Cup qualifying.
Their aerial presence is a bonus in defending set pieces and also in producing pressure from offensive set pieces.
At right-back, one of Steven Beitashour or Khosro Heydari will start. In all likelihood, it will be Heydari who gets the nod due to his experience and performances during qualifying. Beitashour only possesses six caps with Iran, with none of those coming during qualifying, so Queiroz will likely err on the side of the caution and go with the more known quantity.
In the 4-2-3-1 formation, Queiroz will almost certainly start Andranik Teymourian and captain Javad Nekounam as the two holding midfielders.
Both have prior experience from the 2006 World Cup and are creative forces that have plied their trade in Europe as well. They are two of the first names on the team sheet for Queiroz.
The three wingers/attacking midfielders are a little trickier to predict. Ashkan Dejagah is a certainty, while one of Alireza Jahanbakhsh or Ghasem Hadadifar will likely start on the left wing opposite Dejagah.
It is a difficult call, but Jahanbakhsh perhaps offers slightly more upside, and he will likely be the one starting in Curitiba.
Playing behind the lone striker will likely be Masoud Shojaei. His inconsistency frustrates many Iran fans, but his talent is undeniable, and Queiroz has a history of opting for caution and experience over the risk of youth.
If Shojaei fails to make the starting XI, Jahanbakhsh will take the spot in the hole behind the striker, while Hadadifar will likely take the left-wing spot.
Reza Ghoochannejhad, the Dutch-Iranian forward, has impressed greatly in his time with the national squad. His goals were absolutely crucial in sealing qualification, including scoring the winner in Seoul to top their qualifying group.
He has kept up the good form with Iran in recent friendlies and is a shoo-in as the lone striker for Team Melli.
Indeed, Iran's potential progression from the group will rely heavily on Ghoochannejhad's ability to convert what will likely be a limited number of chances throughout the three games in the group stage.
The Nigeria match is as close to a must-win game as one can find, given Iran face the near-impossible task of beating Argentina in their next match. One or zero points heading into the final match with Bosnia may spell an early exit for Iran.
Iran must keep the scorelines low and rely on Ghoochannejhad to provide them with a lead against Nigeria so they can go back to what Queiroz likes to do best: play on the counter and protect a lead.