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    Iran

    Two London-based players feature in Iran coach Carlos Queiroz's preliminary 30-man squad for the FIFA World Cup.

    Fulham midfielder Ashkan Dejageh and Charlton Athletic striker Reza Ghoochannejad are among 10 foreign-based players in the squad, which will be trimmed to 23 by 2 June.

    The Iranians have had a troubled build-up to the tournament and last month Queiroz started a training camp in South Africa with only 12 players.

    Iran, playing in the World Cup finals for the fourth time after 1978, 1998 and 2006, have been drawn in Group F alongside Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia-Hercegovina, and open their campaign against the Nigerians on 16 June.

    Squad:


    Goalkeepers
    : Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig/GER), Rahman Ahmadi (Sepahan Isfahan), Alireza Haqiqi (Sporting da Covilha/POR), Sosha Makani (Foolad), Ali Reza Biranvand (Naft Tehran)

    Defenders:
    Hossein Mahini (Persepolis), Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis), Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan Isfahan), Amir Hossein Sadeqi (Esteghlal), Hashem Beykzadeh (Esteghlal), Khosrow Heidari (Esteghlal), Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft Tehran), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Zob Ahan Isfahan), Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal SC/QAT), Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps FC/CAN)

    Midfielders:
    Mehrdad Pouladi (Persepolis), Reza Haghighi (Persepolis), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), Ghasem Hadadifar (Zob Ahan Isfahan), Bakhtiar Rahmani (Foolad), Javad Nekounam (Kuwait SC/KUW), Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham/ENG), Masoud Shojaei (UD Las Palmas/ESP)

    Forwards:
    Mohammad Reza Khalatbari (Persepolis), Mehdi Sharifi (Sepahan Isfahan), Karim Ansarifard (Tractor Sazi), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton Athletic/ENG), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC/NED), Sardar Azmoun (FC Rubin Kazan/RUS), Reza Norouzi (Naft Tehran)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 16 May at 12:00 CET.

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    Teymourian: Playing against Iran won’t be easy

    Iran will start the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ as rank outsiders, but their players have vowed to make life tough for their fancied opponents.
    "No game is going to be easy for us," midfielder Andranik Teymourian said at a training camp in eastern Austria. "But playing against Iran is not going to be easy for any of our opponents.

    Iran start their fourth World Cup against Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group F. They have never made it past the first round and are widely predicted to struggle this time.

    Iran won just one point at their last appearance - thanks to a draw against Angola - at Germany 2006. Their previous tournaments were in 1978 and 1998. They have a record of one win, two draws and six defeats from nine World Cup matches.

    They head to Brazil, however, having topped their Asian qualifying group ahead of Korea Republic - a fact the players will not let anyone forget.

    "This shows the enormous fighting spirit shown by the players, proven in the qualifiers, and the fact that we could qualify is an absolutely tremendous achievement for our team and I personally hope that we can be one of the favourites also," said Teymourian.

    NEC player Alireza Jahanbakhsh said: "That's like a window for all the world, all the countries can see it, so we're going to be our best and get a result in the World Cup." The first test will be against Nigeria on 16 June.

    "I think it's going to be a tough battle," said defender Steven Beitashour, a 2012 MLS All-Star player, now with the Vancouver Whitecaps. "If you can start off the World Cup right and get the win, I think you have a good chance of getting to the next round."

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    Queiroz trims Iran squad to 24

    Iran coach Carlos Queiroz on Sunday named a 24-man squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, pending the elimination of one player from the official final line-up because of injury worries. The list published on the Iran Football Federation website contained few surprises, but Queiroz dropped Mohammadreza Khalatbari, the Persepolis striker who was a first team regular during qualifying.

    Iran are in Group F against Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria in the first round in Brazil. Team Melli's final 23-man squad has been delayed because a medical report is awaited for defender Hashem Beykzadeh, who hurt a calf muscle in a warm-up match against Montenegro.

    The final list is due to be made public Monday, but according to the federation even if Beykzadeh is declared fit his potential replacement Mohammad Khanzadeh, of Zob Ahan Isfahan, will also travel to Brazil.

    Iran squad:

    Goalkeepers: Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig/GER), Rahman Ahmadi (Sepahan Isfahan), Alireza Haqiqi (Sporting da Covilha/POR)
    Defenders: Hossein Mahini (Persepolis), Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis), Amir Hossein Sadeqi (Esteghlal), Hashem Beykzadeh (Esteghlal), Mehrdad Pouladi (Persepolis), Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft Tehran), Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal SC/QAT), Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps FC/CAN), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Zob Ahan Isfahan)
    Midfielders: Reza Haghighi (Persepolis), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), Ghasem Hadadifar (Zob Ahan Isfahan), Bakhtiar Rahmani (Foolad), Javad Nekounam (Kuwait SC/KUW), Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan Isfahan)
    Forwards: Khosrow Heidari (Esteghlal), Karim Ansarifard (Tractor Sazi), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton Athletic/ENG), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC/NED),Masoud Shojaei (UD Las Palmas/ESP), Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham/ENG)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 5 June at 12:00 CET.

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    Heydari: Queiroz coaches in an incredible way

    Carlos Queiroz took charge of Iran in April 2011 with one goal in mind: to return them to the FIFA World Cup™ after they missed out on South Africa 2010. The 61-year-old rose to the challenge in style. Iran finished top of Group A in Asia’s fifth qualifying round, beating section favourites Korea Republic on home turf in the final match to ensure their spot in Brazil. As a result, Queiroz has become one of the most well-liked personalities in Iran. Joyous fans hailed the Portuguese and his team at a celebration held at the legendary Azadi Stadium in Tehran, and gave them an ecstatic send-off when they left for South America. Team Melli supporters have high expectations for this World Cup, where Iran face Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Nigeria in Group F. The three-time Asian champions kick off their campaign on Monday against the African side at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba.

    Buoyed by the confidence of their fans, the players are convinced that Queiroz’s guidance will lead them to success. Indeed, since picking up the reins, the former Real Madrid boss has brought through several previously unknown European-based talents.
    Goalkeeper Daniel Davari, who signed for the Swiss club Grasshopper just two weeks ago, is one such find. Talking to FIFA.com, he could not speak highly enough of Queiroz: “When Queiroz first called me up, I accepted straight away. It is a huge honour to be brought into the national set-up by such a great coach. “Queiroz gives off positive vibes. I’ve worked with many different coaches in Germany, and I’ve seen a lot of things, but I’ve really benefitted from Queiroz’s experience.” Davari is not alone in recognising how important Queiroz is for Iran. Ashkan Dejagah, who scored two decisive goals in the qualifier against Qatar, spoke to us about the squad’s improvement over the last few years. “The team has really come on since Queiroz came into the fold,” said the Fulham forward. “We are playing football at a much higher level. The coach has a lot of experience and has worked with some top teams. He has tried to pass on his know-how to the players and I think we’ve been working well together up until now. We just need to stay on the right track.”

    European-based stars
    Queiroz has not only brought European-based players into the fold - he has also shown his faith in several home-grown talents and forged a balanced line-up. The results have been impressive. The Middle Easterners have chalked up 20 wins in 38 games, their best run since 2006, the year of their previous World Cup appearance when Croatian tactician Branko Ivankovic was at the helm. Also singing the coach’s praises is right-back Khosro Heydari, who believes that Iran’s qualification for Brazil 2014 is largely down to Queiroz, especially in view of the fact that they failed to reach South Africa 2010 with an equally strong side. “Queiroz is central to our success,” said the fullback. “He coaches the team in such an incredible way. He is a brilliant coach who has pulled off a real feat in taking us to the World Cup. Since he arrived, the standard of our game has just kept on improving.”

    Midfielder Bakhtiar Rahmani added: “I’ve captained the side at Foolad for the last three years but whenever I train with Queiroz, I pick up loads of interesting things on the training ground and in matches. He is a coach like no other. There is a huge difference between someone who has coached at Real Madrid and Manchester United and someone who hasn’t. I can say is Queiroz is a fantastic manager.” One thing is for sure: Queiroz will be all the more loved in Iran if Team Melli put on a good show in the World Cup.

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    Queiroz praises plucky Iran

    Iran head coach Carlos Queiroz hailed his players after they opened their FIFA World Cup™ campaign in Group F with a gutsy goalless draw against Nigeria. The unfancied Iranians had the best chance of a grim showdown in Curitiba when Reza Ghoochannejhad forced a fine save out of Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama in the 33rd minute, and former Manchester United assistant Queiroz is convinced his side still have a chance in a group which also includes Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Queiroz said: "I am very happy but it was very difficult, we played against a great team and it was necessary to play a realistic game. I think we did well, we fought for every ball and every space, and we played 90 minutes with one thing on our mind - the first opportunity to score. It was a game that I need to praise my players, they deserve to be congratulated. We kept the team in the tournament and now we have Argentina. The most important thing is that everything is open for us."

    Iran's delight in taking a point was evident in their reaction at the final whistle while Stephen Keshi's Nigeria will see the draw as an opportunity lost. The Super Eagles were found wanting with their final ball throughout and only the late addition of substitutes Shola Ameobi and Peter Odemwingie breathed life into their front line. Keshi admitted: "The boys were nervous and unsettled - you don't do that at this stage. It happens in football. We really didn't perform as expected but we have to move on. I wanted a win but we must take a draw. We must do better to get a win against Bosnia."

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    Ghoochannejhad: We've got nothing to lose

    It is safe to say that the crowd at this past Monday's Iran-Nigeria game at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba were not exactly bowled over by the spectacle. After all, the match yielded the sole goalless draw of the first round of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ group-stage action. There is no doubt Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi was busier than his Nigerian opposite number, Vincent Enyeama, but the rest of Team Melli looked supremely drilled tactically. Up top, Reza Ghoochannejhad worked tirelessly and, despite failing to hit the net, scored 7.53 in the Castrol Index, outperforming several bigger – though not longer! – names including a certain Lionel Messi.

    The 26-year-old voiced his delight at the point gained in an interview with FIFA: "It was a tough match. We knew they were a physically strong team, but that didn't stop us putting in a good performance. We pressed them constantly and our tactics nullified their game." Coach Carlos Queiroz was unstinting in his praise for the marksman, whom he personally convinced to represent Iran rather than the Netherlands, where the hotshot played at youth level. "He put in an excellent shift. "We were focused on keeping it tight defensively against an extremely physical Nigeria side and, despite the fact that he frequently found himself isolated up front, he still managed to press the opposition. I was impressed by his performance and I hope my players give him more support against Argentina," the Portuguese coach added.

    The Charlton forward is adamant that the AFC side are out to build on their solid start to reach the Round of 16 for the first time in four appearances at the finals: "The point will give us confidence and mentally speaking the team have never been stronger. We dropped [two] points but we did what we set out to, which is gratifying. We're physically and mentally ready to take on Argentina and I'm hoping to score against them."

    Free from pressure
    Ghoochannejhad's bullishness should not be mistaken for cockiness: he simply believes that all the pressure is on the two-time world champions and their talisman, Lionel Messi. The Iranians, meanwhile, will be unencumbered by expectations, and any sort of positive result will be a bonus ahead of their final group fixture against Bosnia and Herzegovina. "We have to enjoy it and follow the coach's instructions to the letter. We've got absolutely nothing to lose in this match," stressed the man who enabled Iran to qualify top of their group with his winner against Korea Republic. "Argentina are among the favourites this year, while the same can't be said for us. All the pressure will be on their shoulders and we will have to show our resilience, like against Nigeria," he went on.

    Even if Team Melli are defeated by La Albiceleste, they will still have a chance of making it through the group going into their meeting with the Bosnians, whom they have beaten in four of five friendly encounters. Despite this auspicious statistic, Ghoochannejhad is refusing to count Iran's chickens before they have hatched: "This is the World Cup and that's no way to approach things; [right now] the most important match is the Argentina game. We have to try to get a good result before we can talk about qualification." As he has made abundantly clear, the man nicknamed 'Gucci' isn't looking past Messi and Co and is aiming to mark the game in style: by putting the ball past Sergio Romero to open his World Cup account.

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    Dejagah: Iran will be going for goals

    There are two sides to any successful team and, for 181 minutes at Brazil 2014, Iran have been near-flawless in one. Certainly, few defences at this FIFA World Cup™ have been as disciplined or well-drilled as Carlos Queiroz's, and it took a goal out of nothing - a moment of pure Lionel Messi inspiration - for all their diligence to be undone. That flash of Messi magic denied the Iranians a second successive clean sheet, and according to Ashkan Dejagah, there is an inevitability to their campaign having been built on such foundations. As he told FIFA.com: " We don't have players like Messi, [Sergio] Aguero and [Angel] Di Maria, so we need to focus on making ourselves as well-organised as possible The shape of the team, making sure we're tough to get through defensively, is something that has been very important for the coach in the build-up to this tournament.

    "He's spent a lot of time on the training field making sure that we have that we're compact and ready to take on the best teams in the world. Neither Nigeria nor Argentina had many chances against us and, realistically, that's the only way we can go about things. If we played a really open game against players like Messi, they would have killed us.

    Opening up and going on the offensive has, though - thanks to Argentina's No10 - gone from being a dangerous option to being Iran's only option. Anything but victory against Bosnia and Herzegovina will, after all, dash any lingering hopes of reaching the last 16, which makes finding a way to goal the key challenge. "The fact we've not scored yet is something we need to put right," acknowledged Dejagah. "I think we were really unlucky against Argentina though. We had a lot of chances and it was one of those games where everyone in the team did their job and played well. It's hard when you lose a game like that, although you have to stand back and give credit to Messi. It's times like those, when games are really tight, that the great players show how important they are. But we can still take positives and be proud of our performance.

    "I actually thought I'd scored in the game against Argentina - that header I had, I thought it was in for sure. But again, you have to applaud their keeper for a really fantastic save. I think a goal will come for us though. We definitely have players who can score and I think we were more dangerous in our second game compared to our first. "Hopefully this third match will bring another step up. We'll definitely be going for goals and we still have a chance to go through, I'm sure of that. What we need to do is take the good things we've done so far, improve a little bit in other areas and give everything to beat Bosnia. If we do that - and I think it's a game we can win - we can still qualify."

    Having come up against most of his upcoming opponents either in the Bundesliga or the English Premier League, Dejagah knows better than most that the debutants boast plenty of individual talent. However, the 27-year-old Fulham midfielder - who represented Germany at youth level before declaring for Iran - is relishing his first experience of the World Cup, and has no desire to join the Bosnians in heading for home. He said: "Being at this World Cup has the highlight of my career, for sure. Every footballer wants to play at this tournament and, here in Brazil, with the atmosphere, it's even more special. I'm really enjoying it. And, believe me, I really want to make sure we stay here for as long as possible."

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    Queiroz leave post

    Iran will begin their search for Carlos Queiroz's replacement after not renewing his contract.

    Iran had held Nigeria to a goalless draw in their opening before falling 1-0 to Argentina. They still had a chance to progress to the Round of 16 heading into Wednesday's match but they came up well short in their final game.

    Queiroz, meanwhile, will seek a fresh challenge after coaching Iran for three years. "I've shown my commitment to this project, but I haven't received any new contract offer," the former Manchester United assistant coach said. "It's been an honour for me to work for Iran, I've fallen in love with the country.

    "But you can't have a marriage when only one side wants to commit. I waited for them to make an offer, but I haven't received anything, so I've come here to say 'thank you' to those who gave me the opportunity to do this job. I will always have Iranian football, my players and the fans in my heart."

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