Iran will resume its 2022 World Cup qualification campaign on Thursday, taking on Hong Kong in Group C in Manama, the capital of Bahrain.
Dragan Skocic’s men will be facing a tough task in securing a place in the final round of qualifiers as they are third in the group, trailing Iraq and the group host by five and three points respectively, albeit with a game in hand.
Eight group winners plus four best runners-up will advance to the next round.
Iran will have to overcome a hectic fixtures list – four games in 12 days – while the 17:30 kickoff time for three games in the hot, humid weather of the Persian Gulf country will surely be another barrier to Iran’s ambitions.
Iran will play Bahrain on June 7 and then face Cambodia four days later, before the decisive final day sees Iran square off against Iraq on June 15.
Under ex-manager Marc Wilmots, Iran got off to a flying start in the group, beating Hong Kong 2-0 and then thrashing Cambodia 14-0 in Tehran.
But back-to-back defeats against Bahrain (1-0) and Iraq (2-1), left Iran’s chances of progress hanging in the balance, leading to the Asian powerhouse parting ways with the Belgian manager Marc Wilmots.
However, the Croatian manager will have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his first official matches on Iran’s bench.
Zenit St. Petersburg striker Sardar Azmoun and Porto’s Mehdi Taremi, having enjoyed splendid seasons with their clubs, will lead the line for Iran, while AEK Athens’s Karim Ansarifard, Kaveh Rezaei of Charleroi, and Esteghlal’s in-form Mehdi Qayedi will offer further options up front.
Ehsan Hajsafi, Ahmad Nourollahi, Ali Qolizadeh, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Saeid Ezzatollahi will be the favorites to play in the middle with Saman Qoddous, Vahid Amiri, also Mehdi Torabi in contention with making appearances off the bench.
Skocic will probably face a dilemma in naming the first choice between the posts as he has two experienced keepers at his disposal in Alireza Beiranvand and Amir Abedzadeh.
The keeper, whoever that might be, will be supported by a solid backline, which includes the likes of Majid Hosseini, Hossein Kan’anizadegan, Shoja Khalilzadeh, Sadeq Moharami, Milad Mohammadi, and Morteza Pouraliganji.
This is not the first time Iran will endure such nervy and challenging circumstances in the World Cup qualifiers.