Iran vs. Nigeria: 4 Things We Learned
Iran and Nigeria played out a 0-0 draw in Curitiba in their opening match of the World Cup in Brazil. The game marked the first draw of the competition after the previous 12 games had all ended in victories.
The contest in Curitiba was undoubtedly, from a technical perspective, the lowest quality game of the tournament to date, with sloppy passing and aimless attacking the theme throughout.
Iran manager Carlos Queiroz and Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi will both be reasonably pleased with a point, but both will have some disappointment at the manner in which their respective sides played out the match.
Iran face Argentina next Saturday, while Nigeria now prepare to face Bosnia-Herzegovina in their second match.
Here are four things we learned about Iran from this match.
Iran's Strength Lies in Their Defense
Heading into the tournament, it was expected that Iran's strategy would be to absorb pressure and rely on their defensive discipline to spring counter-attacks and attempt to win low-scoring contests.
Iran allowed only two goals in eight matches in the final stage of Asian qualifying, but how that defensive record would translate against the world's best was unclear.
Carlos Queiroz's men passed the first test against Nigeria, showing impressive individual and collective defending against the likes of Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike and Shola Ameobi.
Despite dominating possession and controlling the match for long amounts of time, Nigeria could only produce a set of half-chances and never truly troubled Iran goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi.
How this will translate to Argentina's world-beating attack and Bosnia's forward line is unclear, as they represent a clear upgrade to Nigeria's strikeforce.
Regardless, Iran will head into their match with Argentina with some confidence that they can slow Lionel Messi and Co. A win would be beyond the wildest dreams of all Iran fans, but a draw is likely the result that Queiroz will target.
There Is a Lack of Cohesion in Midfield and Attack
Iran only scored eight goals in eight games in the final stage of qualifying for Brazil, with four of those goals coming in one game against Lebanon.
The most common scoreline for Team Melli was 1-0, and it appears they will have to win against one of Argentina or Bosnia by a similar scoreline.
Against Nigeria, they displayed a clear lack of connection between defense and attack, often clearing the ball forward in the hope that Reza Ghoochannejhad or Ashkan Dejagah would control the ball and start a counter-attack.
Andranik Teymourian had a good game in terms of breaking up many Nigerian attacks, intercepting multiple passes in the middle of the field, but he was poor in distribution.
Iran's best attacks came when they settled, took their time on the ball and patiently attacked Nigeria, creating chances leading to corners or crosses.
The two best chances of the game for Iran unsurprisingly came off a Ghoochannejhad header off a corner in the first half and a Dejagah header off a cross late in the second half, just before his substitution.
While Argentina will undoubtedly be a tough nut to crack, Iran must create chances and be far less sloppy in possession heading into that match and their final match against Bosnia.
Alireza Haghighi Is the Best Option in Goal
Heading into the match, much of the focus was on who would be the man between the posts for Team Melli.
It was highly anticipated that one of Daniel Davari or Rahman Ahmadi would be Queiroz's pick, but he surprisingly opted for Alireza Haghighi.
The Sporting Covilha goalkeeper performed well, reacting well to a free-kick that had him initially wrong-footed and commanding his area well on set pieces.
In all fairness, he was rarely genuinely tested, but he led Iran to their first clean sheet at a World Cup and showed that he scan be trusted moving forward, at least over the relative inexperience of Davari.
Iran Must Defeat Bosnia to Progress to the Knockout Stages
Carlos Queiroz knew, heading into the tournament, that to have any reasonable shot at progression, Iran would have to defeat one of Nigeria or Bosnia.
A draw against Nigeria isn't the worst result for Iran, but they had chances to take three points, and there is now no doubt that anything less than victory on the third matchday against Bosnia will end Iran's tournament early.
Queiroz will undoubtedly take the Argentina match as an opportunity to defend in numbers and hope for an early goal which will allow Iran to attempt to take a point and have two points heading into the Bosnia match.
Regardless of the result against Argentina, hoping to advance on goal difference with two draws against Bosnia and Nigeria would be very dangerous for Iran.
Bosnia displayed attacking verve against Argentina and some defensive frailties, but they are a more difficult proposition than Nigeria, and Iran must play the game of their lives to take the three points and advance to the round of 16 for the first time in the nation's history.