World Cup 2014: How Iran Will Line Up Against Argentina
Iran are preparing for their clash with South American powerhouse Argentina in Belo Horizonte, Brazil this coming Saturday.
Fresh off a tedious 0-0 draw with Nigeria, Iran manager Carlos Queiroz will approach this match with a dose of realism. A victory would be beyond the wildest dreams of all Iranians, but a draw is the result Queiroz will likely target moving ahead to the final match against Bosnia.
An ambitious approach is unlikely, as playing an attacking game against the Argentines both plays into the hands of Lionel Messi and Co. and takes away from Iran's main strength, which is their defensive discipline.
Iran lined up as follows against Nigeria, courtesy of FIFA.com:
Here is how Iran will likely line up against Argentina.
Alireza Haghighi will, in all likelihood, continue to man the goalposts for Iran moving forward.
Queiroz's decision to start Haghighi was slightly surprising, especially given his decision to field Daniel Davari in recent matches.
Regardless, the gamble paid off, as Haghighi was solid if unspectacular against the Nigerians.
In a match without many clear-cut chances, Haghighi dealt with everything that came his way in a calm, professional manner. It is difficult to ask for much more from your goalkeeper than to be a steady presence behind the defense.
He will have to be one of Iran's main protagonists against Argentina, which promise to attack far more effectively than Nigeria.
Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and others will look to test Haghighi as much as possible. Given that Nigeria had 63 percent possession against Iran, it is to be expected that Argentina will have the ball just as much, if not more.
Mehrdad Pooladi was a standout performer at left-back, often nullifying the threat of both Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses, who swapped wings multiple times throughout the match.
His aerial prowess and strength stopped multiple Nigerian attacks before they could get going, and he seems to have won the starting job over the partly fit Hashem Beikzadeh.
The centre-back pairing of Jalal Hosseini and Amirhossein Sadeghi was fantastic against Nigeria as well. Both players were solid in the air and never allowed Emmanuel Emenike, Shola Ameobi or either of the wingers much space or time to work with in the centre of the field.
Both are secure members of Queiroz's starting XI moving forward.
At right-back, Pejman Montazeri was also very solid and did well stopping Moses, in particular, from exerting much influence on the game.
He appears to be safely ahead of Steven Beitashour in the pecking order.
Queiroz has clearly effectively drilled defensive discipline into his side, which has been a relief given Iran's prior propensity to make fatal defensive mistakes in World Cup matches.
It will not be easy to breach Iran's defense, but the challenge only gets harder moving forward against Argentina.
The central midfield pairing of Andranik Teymourian and Javad Nekounam are stalwarts; indeed, Nekounam is the captain of the side and undroppable.
Teymourian was a study of contrasts against Nigeria. Fantastic from a defensive point of view, disrupting numerous would-be attacks and aggressively marking in the centre of the field, yet poor in distribution.
The midfield looked confused and even nervous in the early going before stringing together some possession and creating chances.
It is vital that the midfield play to their ability and control the ball to protect the defense from constant pressure against Di Maria and Fernando Gago.
Ehsan Hajisafi and Khosro Heydari were largely anonymous in the first half, but they were brighter in the second half. Heydari, in particular, gave Juwon Oshaniwa some trouble in the second half before being substituted.
Regardless, Hajisafi was resolute in his defensive duties throughout the match, while Heydari did have some issues dealing with Moses early on.
In this sense, Heydari seems the man most likely to lose his spot moving forward, with either Alireza Jahanbakhsh or Masoud Shojaei perhaps offering more creativity and/or pace on the right side of the midfield.
Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejhad were largely starved of service, often taking on Nigeria's defense individually when on the ball.
Dejagah, in particular, was very quiet, seeming a step slow in comparison to his performances for Fulham late in the Premier League season.
Ghoochannejhad was Iran's best hope for a goal, largely attempting to create offensive opportunities off scrappy plays and half-chances.
He had Iran's best chance of the game with a glancing header off a corner in the first half, forcing an excellent save from Vincent Enyeama in the Nigerian goal.
Despite these two not scoring or combining as much as Queiroz would have liked, they are undroppable simply due to their potential and impact in helping Iran qualify.
Additionally, at this point, there is no one who could replace these two in Iran's 23-man squad, and as such, they will both be starting against Argentina on Saturday.