WORLD CUP: Unbeaten in qualifying, Iran faces tougher test
After an almost flawless qualifying campaign, Iran will find it far tougher at the World Cup.
Iran's route to the round of 16 from Group B could be blocked by defending European champion Portugal and 2010 World Cup winner Spain.
But the Iberian teams have good reason to be wary. Iran was unbeaten in 10 qualifiers and did not concede a single goal in the first nine games. And the strongest backline in Asia was only breached by Syria once a place in Russia was already secure.
Contesting back-to-back World Cups for the first time, Iran will be aiming for a first appearance in the knockout stage in its fifth attempt.
Since the 2014 tournament, when Iran finished with one point, the team has evolved and coach Carlos Queiroz has more options in every position — with more than half of the squad gaining experience at overseas clubs.
Queiroz has publicly reminded the Iranian federation of the need for perfection in the World Cup build-up, reflecting concerns about past preparations. While regional rival Saudi Arabia has secured friendlies with Germany and Italy, Iran warms up against Uzbekistan and Latvia.
Here's a closer look at the Iran team:
Queiroz has now steered three teams through four World Cup qualification campaigns.
The experienced tactician has been in charge of Iran since 2011 and has taken the team to new heights.
On the field, he has produced a disciplined and well-organized team that has an attacking threat. That success means that his regular run-ins with the federation and club coaches in Iran are tolerated. Queiroz's status is enhanced by previous experience coaching Real Madrid and Portugal.
Alireza Beiranvand is likely to get the nod in Russia.
At 6-foot-4 (1.95 meters), Beiranvand is physically commanding, a fine shot-stopper and known for his distribution, especially with his long throws.
Beiranvand has been in excellent form for Iranian club Persepolis. One potential issue is that understudies do not have much international experience.
There are plenty of options in defense.
The back four has been well-marshalled by veteran central defender Jalal Hosseini, but younger players including Rouzbeh Cheshmi are now getting a look in. Watch out for the speed of fullbacks Milad Mohammadi and Ramin Rezaeian.
Ehsan Hajsafi, Masoud Shojaei and Ashkan Dejagah bring World Cup experience and scoring ability. Talented players such as Saeid Ezatolahi and Saman Ghoddos offer more energy.
The World Cup could be the stage for Alireza Jahanbakhsh to secure a big-money move from AZ Alkmaar after rising to the top of the Dutch scoring charts.
Sardar Azmoun is already accustomed to the World Cup hosts after spending the last five years playing in Russia, impressing recently at Rostov and being linked with a move to a bigger league after the tournament.
Karim Ansarifard and Mehdi Taremi are also a source of goals.
Iran opens on June 15 against Morocco before taking on Spain on June 20 and Portugal on June 25.