Since their continental emergence in the 1960s, Iran have consistently been among Asia's perennial major contenders. After prevailing in three AFC Asian Cups (1968, 1972, 1976), Team Melli sealed qualification for the 1978 FIFA World Cup™, becoming the first west Asian nation to do so. After spending the next two decades in hibernation, Iran secured a famous away-goals victory over Australia to reach France 1998. Eight years later in Germany, Iran made their third appearance, but erratic form saw Team Melli finish behind Korea Republic and Korea DPR to miss South Africa 2010.
FIFA World Cup finals history
Despite their presence within Asia, Iran have so far been unable to progress beyond the group phase at the FIFA World Cup. They finished their debut campaign with a point, courtesy of a 1-1 draw against Scotland. But their first win came in the second appearance when a golden generation, boasting the likes of Ali Daei, Karim Bagheri and Mehdi Mahdavikia, came up with a memorable 2-1 defeat of USA. Their last participation at Germany 2006 saw them head home with a point after a 1-1 draw against debutants Angola.
The current crop
Iran recently recruited well-credentialed Carlos Queiroz to take care of their destiny but laying the foundation of the current team was predecessor Afshin Ghotbi. In the wake of their failed campaign for South Africa 2010, Ghotbi brought in a group of talented youngsters to provide the team with fresh impetus. His new-look squad began promisingly in January's AFC Asian Cup, easing into the last eight as the only team to complete the group campaign with an unblemished record. However, a tight solitary-goal defeat against nemesis Korea Republic in the quarter-finals suggested that they have yet to reach their best. Queiroz, for his part, got his tenure off to a good start as Team Melli swept past Maldives 5-0 on aggregate to reach Asia’s third qualifying round for Brazil 2014.
The key players
Filling the void left by Mahdavikia is captain Javad Nekounam, who has quickly established his place as the team's talisman. Aside from providing leadership, the skipper provides creativity alongside Osasuna team-mate Masoud Shojaei. Striker Karim Ansarifard stands out among the emerging generation, while in defence there is the vastly-experienced Mohammad Nosrati. Upon his appointment Queiroz recalled the richly talented Ali Karimi, a long-standing playmaker who has figured prominently for Iran in qualifying over the past three FIFA World Cups.
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Argentina 1978, France 1998, Germany 2006 (Group stages), Men's Olympic Football Tournament Montreal 1976 (Quarter-finals)
Former stars: Ali Daei, Khodadad Azizi, Karim Bagheri