World Cup 2014 Preview: Iran looking to surprise

The Sports NetworkJune 2, 2014 

Iran's first appearance in the World Cup came in Argentina in 1978 and they did not qualify again until 1998, where they notched their only tournament victory against the United States, but were again eliminated in the group stage.

A third appearance saw the side qualify for Germany in 2006, but it was another quick exit and the team missed out on the event in South Africa in 2010.

Iran breezed through Asian qualifying, collecting 16 points and beating out South Korea for the top spot in Group A. The team allowed just two goals in eight matches, but also scored only eight, so offense could be an issue against high-caliber competition.

Form could also be an issue for head coach Carlos Queiroz's team, which has played just one international friendly since booking their place in the competition last June -- a 2-1 loss to Guinea in Tehran.

Fellow Asian World Cup qualifiers, Japan, by contrast, have faced Uruguay, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ghana in an effort to raise the level of competition.

Iran is led by midfielder and captain Javad Nekounam, who is the country's longest-serving player with 135 appearances over a 13-year stretch.

Nekounam will play in his second World Cup after appearing in Germany. The deep-lying playmaker became the first Iranian to play in La Liga when he joined Osasuna following the 2006 tournament.

Joining Nekounam in the middle of the park will be Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah, who had a fine season for the Cottagers last term. He netted five goals in 20 league appearances for a Fulham side that struggled all season and was relegated from the Premier League.

Charlton Athletic forward Reza Ghoochannejhad will lead the forward line, having joined up with his birth nation in 2012. He scored seven goals for the side in his first nine appearances and could be the key to Iran's hopes of advancing past the group stage.

Central defender Jalal Hosseini will anchor a stout defense that excelled during qualifying. At 34 years old, Hosseini has 84 caps to his name and is also a significant threat in the attacking half on set-piece opportunities.

Drawn into Group F along with Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria, Iran's path out of the first round is daunting, but the side is eager to turn heads and carve out a legacy of success.

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