Monday, June 3, 2013

Qatar vs. Iran – The Big Preview

Jassim bin Hamad Stadium is expected to be at its full capacity on Tuesday, when Qatar host Iran in a crucial world cup qualifier with the ultimate goal of winning the game’s three points and taking another step towards making their first ever appearance at the biggest football show on earth.

A historic victory over Iran looks more possible than ever, and there are plenty of reasons to believe in that, Al Annabi look in a good shape after the recent 3-1 victory over Latvia and the 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan.  
While the Iranian side is suffering, a number of key players are missing and the coach is serving a two match suspension by the AFC. Experienced names like Seyed Rahamti, Hadi Aghili, Ali Karimi, Ashkan Dejagah and Mehrdad Pooladi will not be available.
The team already lost twice in the qualifiers against Lebanon in Beirut and against Uzbekistan in Tehran, in addition to suffering defeats in friendlies against Oman and Albania.

The current “Team Melli” is far weaker than the side that reached the World Cup finals twice over the past two decades. They have no legends like Ali Daei, Mehdi Mahdevikia and Karim Bagheri, and even when they had those legends during the 1998 World Cup qualifiers, they suffered a famous 2-0 defeat in Doha.   
Also, Iran defeated all their opponents during the ongoing qualifiers, including Uzbekistan and South Korea, with one exception, Qatar who held them to a couple of draws at Azadi Stadium in Tehran.         

All these facts should make Al Annabi players confident of their ability to secure the three points, even if their opponents are considered one of the continent’s giants.   
The Situation

South Korea

We are heading into the finals stages of Asia’s World Cup qualifiers, and the first three weeks of June will see the last three matchdays in this group round.
Only a victory over Iran in Doha and a similar result against Uzbekistan in Tashkent on June 18th will give Al Annabi a direct ticket to Brazil.
Al Annabi is currently fourth in group A, with seven points from six games, four points behind leaders Uzbekistan, a victory over Iran will at least put them in third place.
Meanwhile, Iran is level on points with Qatar, but has a better goal difference and a game in hand.
Later in the day South Korea, second in the group with ten points, will face Lebanon in Beirut, and a victory for the Taeguk warriors will put them on top with 13 points; and even if they lost the game and Qatar defeated Iran, they might keep second place due to their better goal difference.
The top two teams in the group will qualify directly to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals in Brazil, while the third-placed team will face the third team in Group B, with the winner facing the fifth-placed team in South Amercia’s qualifiers.   
Matchday 8 – June 4th
Qatar vs. Iran
Lebanon vs. South Korea
Match Day 9 – June 11th
South Korea vs. Uzbekistan
Iran vs. Lebanon
Final Matchday – June 18th
Uzbekistan vs. Qatar
South Korea vs. Iran  
The Road to Brazil
Qatar made it to this stage after knocking out Vietnam in the second round, before squeezing past the third round by finishing second behind Iran in a group that also included Bahrain and Indonesia.
Al Annabi then made the perfect start for the final group stage, defeating Lebanon in Beirut 1-0, but in the following game they suffered a huge setback by losing 4-1 at home against South Korea.
Hopes were revived few days later when they held Iran to a goalless draw in Tehran, but once again a 1-0 home defeat by of Uzbekistan put their campaign in jeopardy.
The team improved later in 2012 and defeated Lebanon 1-0 in Doha to stay in contention for one of the group's tickets.
In March 2013, they were on the verge of holding South Korea to a deserved draw in Seoul, but with the help of controversial refereeing a 96th minute goal gave the Koreans a 2-1 victory.
The experienced Koreans are expected to snatch one of the direct tickets from this group to make their eighth straight appearance at the World Cup Finals, and the fight for the final direct ticket will surely be fierce.
Al Annabi

Fahad Thani, Qatar’s first ever local full time coach, picked up a 27-man-squad for the game against Iran on June 4th and against Uzbekistan on June 18th.
Al Annabi played two friendly matches last week, defeating Latvia 3-1 and drawing 1-1 with Azerbaijan.
Qassim Burhan (Al Gharrafa)
Ahmed Soufiane (Al Jaish)
Saad Al Shib (Al Sadd)
Mohamed Kasula (Al Sadd)
Ibrahim Maged (Al Sadd)
Abdul Karim Hassan (Al Sadd)
Hamed Ismael (Al Rayyan)
Khaled Muftah (Lekhwiya)
Ahmed Yasser (Lekhwiya)
Mosaab Mahmoud (Al Jaish)
Bilal Mohamed (Al Gharrafa)
Ibrahim Al Ghanem (Al Gharrafa)
Wesam Rizk (Al Sadd)
Talal Al Baloushi (Al Sadd)
Khalfan Ibrahim (Al Sadd)
Hussein Shehab (Lekhwiya)
Adel Lami (Lekhwiya)
Abdul Azizi Al Sulaity (Al Arabi)
Hamad Al Obaidy (Al Rayyan)
Hassan Al Haydos (Al Sadd)
Ali Afif (Lekhwiya)
Ahmed El Sayed “Jeddo” (Al Jaish)
Sebastian Soria (Lekhwiya)
Jarallah Al Marri (Al Rayyan)
Yusuf Ahmed (Al Sadd)
Abdul Qader Ilyas (Al Jaish)
Maged Mohamed (Al Jaish)
A little bit of history
Qatar’s came very close to reaching the World Cup Finals on two previous occasions.
In the 1990 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Al Annabi reached the final round which was played as a round-robin tournament in Singapore.

They drew with South Korea, Saudi Arabia and UAE, but a 2-0 defeat against North Korea, meant that their 2-1 victory over China in the final day of the qualifiers was only good enough to put them in third place in the 6-team-group, one point behind UAE who booked Asia’s second ticket to Italy alongside group winners South Korea.
Eight years later, during the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the Qataris made a poor start in the final round, and Dutch coach Joe Bonfrere was sacked.
Bosnian coach Džemal Hadžiabdić took over and transformed the team to a real contender for the top of the group, as they defeated Kuwait and China away, before convincingly beating Iran at home 2-0. In the final match at home to Saudi Arabia they only needed a victory to finish on top of the group and book the direct ticket to the finals, but a single goal from Ibrahim Al Swaid ended the hosts’ hopes.
The Opponents

The  captian, Javad Nekounam
The Iranian national team is known as “Team Melli” which means the national team.
Iran reached the FIFA World Cup Finals on three previous occasions, but they never made it past the group stage. They made their debut in the 1978 edition in Argentina with a team that dominated Asian football and won three successive AFC Asian Cup titles.

Their second appearance came in the 1998 edition, where they recorded their only victory, a famous 2-1 win over USA. They also made it to the 2006 finals in Germany but failed to get past a group that included Portugal, Mexico and Angola.
The current “Team Melli” is one of the weakest Iranian sides to appear on the Asian stage, as they lack the star names that dominated the continental scene over the past two decades like Ali Daei, Mehdi Mehdivikia, Karim Bagheri and Ali Karimi.
The team is also missing a number of key players for different reasons, the experienced trio of goalkeeper Seyed Rahmati (pulled out of the squad for personal reasons), Ali Karimi (retired) and Hadi Aghili (one-year-suspension).
Other missing names include left back Mehrdad Pooladi (injury), striker Karim Ansarifard (injury), striker Ashkan Dejagah (Injury), Iranian league’s top scorer Jalal Rafkhaei (injury), second best top scorer Mehdi Seyed Salehi (Personal reasons) and backup goalkeeper Shahab Gordon (Personal Reasons).
After their exit from the quarterfinals of the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar, Afshin Ghotbi left his post as head coach, and with caretaker Ali Reza Mansourian (head coach of the under-21 team) Iran played a friendly in Dubai against a full strength Russia squad winning 1-0, probably their best ever result in the past three years.
Portuguese Coach Carlos Queiroz took over after that game, and in 26 six matches over the following three years, Iran recorded 12 victories, 10 draws and four defeats, scoring 51 goals in the process while conceding 18.
The four defeats came against Lebanon away and Uzbekistan in Tehran, during the world Cup qualifiers, in addition to a 3-1 defeat by Oman and 1-0 defeat by Albania in friendlies.
Javad Nekounam is the team’s top scorer over the last 26 matches with seven goals, followed by Mohamed Reza Khalatabari with four.

The 60-year-old former Real Madrid coach will not be on the bench during the match against Qatar, as he is serving a two match suspension. His new assistant, experienced coach Nelo Vingada will be the perfect replacement. The managerial team of the Iranian team also include the under-21 coach Ali Reza Mansourian and a new fitness coach from Finland, Mikko Kujala.    

Queiroz said in a recent press conference that he expects a tough game against Qatar. He also blasted FIFA for the poor World Cup qualifiers schedule in Asia, which will mean that his team will play three games in three different locations over the period of two weeks, citing that most of the team’s Europe-based players were only allowed to join the team few days before the Qatar match.
The expected starting line-up of the Iranian team
Goalkeeper: Rahman Ahmadi
Right Back: Khosro Heydari
Left Back: Ehsan Haji Safi
Centre-Backs: Jalal Hossieni & Pejman Montazeri
Central Midfield: Javad Nekounam and Andranik Timouyrian
Attacking Midfield: Mohamed Reza Khalatabari, Masoud Shojaei and Mojtaba Jabbari
Striker: Reza Ghoochannejhad     
The one to watch is Iran's front line is the newly discovered in-form striker, Reza Ghoochannejhad, who is playing his football in Belgium with Standard Liege. He made his international debut last year and scored his first goals in the 5-0 victory over Lebanon in the Asian Cup qualifiers. He previously represented Netherlands on youth levels.

Ghoochannejhad, the one to watch
Spain-based midfielder Masoud Shojaei of Osasuna has been in great form recently, while the skillful former Al Gharrafa winger Ali Reza Khalatabari, is expected to be a constant threat on the flanks. He scored 14 goals and made 13 assists this season in the Iranian League.
Controlling the experienced midfield duo of Nekounam and Timouyrian might be Qatar’s key to victory tomorrow.
Head to Head
17 previous meetings on senior level (Official & Friendlies)
10 victories for Iran
3 victories for Qatar
4 draws
8 previous meetings on senior level (Official only)
4 victories for Iran
1 victory for Qatar
3 draws
11 previous meetings on senior level (In Doha)
6 victories for Iran
3 victories for Qatar
2 draws
The first ever match between Qatar and Iran was the opening game of the 1988 AFC Asian Cup finals in Doha, the match ended in a 2-0 victory for Iran who went on to secure a semifinal spot by finishing second in the group, one point ahead of the hosts; they ultimately finished third in the tournament after a penalty shootout win over China in the third place playoff.
Qatar’s first victory over Iran was a memorable one, as they faced each other in Doha during the 1998 World Cup qualifiers, two goals from the legendary striker Mohamed Salem Al Anzi gave the hosts a deserved victory. Al Annabi only needed a win over Saudi Arabia in the final match in Doha to top the group and reach the finals, but the experienced Saudis ran out victorious thanks to a single goal from Ibrahim Al Swaid to finish top of the group.
Iran failed to beat Qatar in their last four meetings, with Qatar winning 3-2 in a 2009 friendly in Doha. Al Annabi’s goals came from Ali Afif and Ibrahim Maged (a double).
The last three matches between Qatar and Iran during the ongoing 2014 World Cup qualifiers ended in draws. In 2012, Qatar held Iran at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium for the first time ever thanks to Mohamed Kasula’s late equalizer as the matched ended 2-2.

Later in the same year, they were able to come back from the Iranian capital with another valuable point after a goalless draw.

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