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Mexico 3 Iran 1

Bobby G

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June 11, 2006 in Nuremberg

Group D has not been deemed too difficult for favorites Mexico and Portugal and neither could have possibly hoped for much more of a better draw, being paired with Iran and Angola. However, every game is 90 minutes long (you catch the drift) and each side begins with 11 players on each side. So all is to be played for.

Team Melli takes on Los Tricolores in what will be each side’s opening fixture of the group. Many might not know this but the Iranians harbor serious ambitions of progressing to the second round. This is Iran’s “Golden Generation” of football players and the Mexicans will play into the Iranians hands if they approach the game with over-confidence.

Let’s get familiar with the two sides:

Coaches: Ivankovic vs Lavolpe

Iran’s Croat coach Branko Ivankovic is a result-oriented coach, never takes risks unless they need to be taken and exhibits extreme loyalty to his players. So it is interesting that he has completely changed his ideology since Iran qualified for the WC. Gone are the players critics have panned in recent months such as Kameli in defence, Alavi in midfield, and Navidkia (albeit through injury). 11 of the members of the Asian Cup in 2004 have been dropped for one reason or another. Ivankovic has taken 5 strikers and 6 attacking midfielders with him to Germany with only 2 defensive midfielders, signaling his intentions during the WC.

Lavolpe is a strict disciplinarian and has not given into demands of picking Cauhtemoc Blanco, even though he has faded this season, and has dropped out of form goal scorer Jaime Lozano too. Lozano scored 11 goals in the qualifiers. H isn’t afraid to drop any player at any time, but enjoys a great relationship with his players, who have backed him throughout his feud with Hugo Sanchez.

How do Iran Play:

4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. Strong pressing all over the pitch starting from up front. Lots of running from the midfield, which is the key component of Ivankovic’s side. Iran probably depends too much on the individual abilities of players, Ali Karimi’s dribbling, and Mehdi Mahdavikia’s control of the play are two of the keys to the formation.

Iran Predicted Line-up: 4-2-3-1 Mirzapour – Kaabi, Rezaei, Golmohammadi, Nosrati(although a central defender, regular left back Zare’e offers nothing going forward and is right-footed, so I am going to predict that Ivankovic will pick Nosrati although it’s a choice between the lesser of two evils) – Nekounam, Teymourian – Mahdavikia, Karimi, Hashemian – Daei (captain)

How do Mexico Play:

Possibly 3-4-3 with short passes and their system is pretty flexible. Depending on whether they have the ball or not the fullbacks drop back, or Marquez pushes forward to support the midfield, and Franco plays more in midfield. Fonseca is a second striker going wider. They could easily play 4-4-2 as well.

Mexico Predicted Line-up: 3-4-3 Sanchez – Rodriguez, Marquez, Osorio – Torrado, Pardo, Morales, Pineda – Franco, Borgetti, Fonseca (but it could easily be 4-4-2 with Salcido added to defence at left back and Bravo finding his way into the team in midfield)

Key Players Iran:

IPB Image

Ali Karimi of Bayern Munich is the key to Iran progressing from the first round. One of the best dribblers in world football, Karimi missed the last 6 weeks of the Bundesliga season but will look to start Iran’s first match.

Mehdi Mahdavikia takes all the set pieces and will be the key player in midfield. Hamburg’s 27 year old player can play right wing, right wing-back, right back or central midfield. Ivankovic will play him on the right side of the diamond in the 4-4-2 or as the right winger in the 4-2-3-1. Either way, his pace and acceleration makes him a constant threat.

Javad Nekounam is a complete central midfielder a la Michael Ballack, Frank Lampard et al, albeit not at the world class level. He is possibly the best central midfielder in Asia and a certainty to move to Europe on a free transfer after the World Cup. He is a threat in the air and can shoot with either foot from long range.

Vahid Hashemian is a former Bochum and Bayern Munich striker, who plays for Hannover. The 29-year old known as “The Helicopter” by the German media for his heading and jumping ability will be Iran’s main goal threat. His partnership with Ali Daei has not been too successful for the national team as they are too similar.

Key Players Mexico:

Rafael Marquez is one of the most under-rated defenders in the world game. Plays an elegant game in defence, but can rough it up too. Captained Mexico during the last World Cup but has since been replaced as captain in the national side.

Jared Borgetti is possibly one of the best headers of the game in world football and he will give Iran’s central defenders a hard time. Hasn’t had the best of seasons with Bolton but he is a different player whenever he has played for the national side.

Oscar Sanchez is Mexico’s undisputed number 1 goalkeeper. He is a very steady keeper and rarely makes mistakes and is rated as one of the top goalkeepers outside Europe. His goal wont be breached too easily in Germany.

Watch out for:

Masoud Shojaei, 21, who has been broken through into the national side at the last minute. Reminds you of a young Ali Karimi, although he doesn’t dribble as much and has much better decision-making and vision than Karimi at his age. Shojaei is certain to be the next big thing of Asian football.

Kaabi, 20, who is playing right back for the national side, although he is a right winger, made his debut for Iran at the age of 16 and has been a regular since. Together with Mahdavikia they pose a real threat to the left side of any team. Not the best of defenders, but his last-ditch defending and supe-speed give him the edge over many wingers. But his slight frame, at 1’68 and 62 kilograms mean that he can be physically “abused”.

Quick chat with Iranian football journalist Mahdi Rahimi of Iran Sports Press:

So tell us, who are you worried about in the Mexican team and why?

Marquez because he is exactly the defender that can handle our strikers and Fonseca because he is one of those attackers that could hurt our defense very bad.

Is Lavolpe the right man for the job?

He seems to be. He is an understudy of Cesar Menotti, he managed to get the people behind him and against Hugo Sanchez, his record and the way Mexico plays speaks for him. So yeah, I would say he is in it.

Whats Irans secret weapon?

I wouldn't say that Mahdavikia and Karimi are secret weapons but so far, Andranik Teymourian has been pretty impressive and he could maybe help us out in controlling the midfield, starting and stopping counter attacks and being a great partner to Nekounam and Karimi. He might be Iran's rising star at the World Cup.

Should Mexico be afraid of Ali Karimi?

Yeah, they should. At least a Karimi in the mood and in health is someone everyone should be afraid of.

Is Ali Daei still playing? Isnt he on his pension yet?

Have you ever heard of a Godfather/Mafioso retiring on his own?? Me neither.

What will be the deciding factor during the game?

How both systems and teams will function. If Iran's team plays like a team, they could have a chance to beat Mexico, specially if Mexico underestimates Iran. However, if Mexico's machine works like it did in the Confed Cup, and their ball distribution and runs work out as well, Iran should face a lot of problems.

No one expects it, but can Iran win?

Iran is the most unpredictable team in the world. Everything is possible, if 50 Cent got it on hard-core style with Vivica.

Who will advance from the group?

Realistically one must say that Iran should have no chance against both Mexico and Portugal. But as said, with Iran nothing is predictable.

What will the world say about Iran after the World Cup?

Two possibilities exist, either “nevermind the nuclear threat, here comes the national team bomb” or “a country with a team like this can't be a threat to anyone”. It could really go to either extreme!

Weaknesses Iran:

•Ebrahim Mirzapour in goal is suspect on crosses and has been blasted by the media over the past year. Ivankovic is under pressure to replace his giant of a goalkeeper with younger and inexperienced Talebloo of Iranian Professional League champions Estaghlal

•Lack of a left side in terms of attacking

•Ali Daei’s lack of movement. At 37, the captain limits his running, but can still pop up to score vital goals

Weaknesses Mexico:

•Emotions and temperament. Can mentally explode if things don’t go their way

•Over-confidence in the camp before this game

•Cant respond to a high-tempo pressing game as South Korea recently proved against them

•Plays through the width almost all the time, with no impetus through the middle

•Can be rattled if pressed (just watch Mexico – Holland in Rotterdam where the Mexicans couldn’t muster a real attack other than the goal they scored despite trailing 2-1 for the whole of the second half)


Iran’s fate depends on this match. Avoid defeat and they have a real chance to progress. Defeat and they are virtually out. As an Iranian, who works as a journalist, I firmly believe that Iran has a chance beat Mexico, especially if we get at them early and possibly score an early goal. Added to that, Mexico will be under pressure in their opening game and may start out cautiously, you have ingredients for a high-octane match. Most of Iran’s players are in their early to mid-twenties and will not be overawed by the occasion, especially those from Southern Iran, who grew up impoverished on the tough streets.

I am going to side towards a little pessimism until I see some of the big question marks in my mind over the goalkeeper, left back and left winger answered in pre-World Cup friendly games and say Mexico will win 2-1. But Iran are certainly no push-overs with half the team playing regularly at European clubs in Germany, and Italy as well as in the UAE.

Edited by Bobby G
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That was a fantastic preview Bobby G.

Made me want to follow the fortunes of Iran.

Sooner or later Mexico are going to produce great players but Borgetti's time at Bolton has shown that 2006 probably isn't that time. I doubt Iran has the game to upset the Mexicans though.

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You never know...Iran is not as weak as you think! There are some good players in there, and I promise you that only a few teams in the World Cup outside the big guns will have two gifted players such as Karimi and Mahdavikia.

This is the golden generation of Iranian footballers, and with a bit of luck, anything can happen. We wont be pushovers, but defensively we got problems.

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Excellent preview Bobby.

I'm sure I read somewhere that the country almost ground to a halt because people were engrossed by Euro 2004 (okay that report might've been a slight exaggeration), so the interest for the World Cups must be just massive.

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Football is religion in Iran, and the country comes to a standstill when Team Melli plays a match.

Theres a lot of hype around the team right now, and lots of expectations.

Everyone thinks if Karimi is fit and ready, anything is possible.

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How close was Farhad Majidi to being in the squad? Seeing him play week in and week out, I feel he would have been very useful as he offers a different dimension than Daei or Hashemian, he is pacy, can finish very well, can run with the ball, good in set pieces, the complete striker :)

A Hashemian - Majidi partnership would have been great...

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He was never in contention.

He spoke out publicly against the coach about 18 months ago after he was subbed out after a poor performance for Iran, and has never been in contention.

As an Iranian, I can say, yes he is technically a good player and good enough to play in Europe even, BUT he is a selfish player whose decision-making has a lot to be desired for and that frustrates us.

Instead, Khatibi is a replica of him, and in the squad, although he has lesser ability but is just as selfish! ;)

Borhani is the most likely attacking sub to come on for Daei.

Shojaei and Teymourian are both pushing for a start too.

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Iran had a great first half, but then switched off for the 2nd half and it cost them the game. Mexico were impressive as the game progressed though, and actually made 3 at the back look good.

Basicly because Mexico played a 3-4-3 they had two players on the wing at all times, and Karimi had to track back to help his full back a lot. Which probably stifled his game. He also seemed to play a bit too centrally.

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