Discovering Iran

The Azadi Stadium in Tehran was inaugurated in 1974 when the capital of Iran hosted the Asian Games: at the time it had a capacity of 120,000 spectators and was called Aryamehr (Light of the Aryans) to recall the Achaemenid Empire. After the 1979 revolution, it took on its current name, which means “freedom” in Farsi, and in the last ten years it has suffered a reduction in seats to about 80,000.

But beyond the number of seats, the capacity of the stadium is punctually challenged by the numerous fans in at least two situations: Shahravard, i.e. the Tehran derby between Persepolis and Esteghlal, during the Iranian football league; And when he plays at home, the Team Melli, i.e. the Iran national football team.

Not wrongly when Iran plays at home, the Azadi is regarded as one of the most intimidating stadiums in Asia due to the chants and chants of the fans throughout the matches: win or lose, the visitors can’t wait for the final whistle to catch the first plane and go home. That was the case for Australia in 1997, when it ended 1-1 in the first leg of the France ’98 play-off; and it was the same for Eire in 2001, who qualified for the Japanese-Korean World Cup despite losing 1-0 in the second leg of the playoffs.
Historically, Iran is one of the strongest nations on its continent, having won the Asian Cup three times in a row (1968, 1972, 1976) and participated in four editions of the World Cup (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014). Iranian sport has had to deal with the terrible consequences of the war between Iran and Iraq, which caused death and destruction for eight years: suffice it to say that Tehran was initially the official candidate, in addition to Los Angeles, to host the 1984 Olympics. Already in 1978 the goalkeeper Nasser Hejazi could not move to Manchester United because no one from the Iranian Football Federation had been able to send the transfer to England: the revolution had broken out.

The 1990s brought a revival and rapid development of the Iranian football league, which was reflected in the progress of Team Melli.

These are the years in which Ali Daei, Karim Bagheri, Khodadad Azizi emerge, who will go to play in the Bundesliga and then play the French World Cup, in which Iran will get its first victory (2-1 against the United States). They will pave the way in Germany for Mehdi Mahdavikia (eight years in Hamburg, still loved by the fans), Vahid Hashemian, Ali Karimi known as the “Maradona of Asia” for his dribbling; in Italy, on the other hand, we remember Rahman Rezaei, a defender with a habit of scoring goals who wore the shirts of Perugia, Messina and Livorno.
Just Ali Daei remains the most famous player of Team Melli, with 109 goals in 149 games he still remains the all-time record holder for goals in a national team: we must not forget the four goals scored against South Korea in the quarter-finals of the 1996 Asian Cup (a match that ended 6-2 for the Iranians). He was also the first Asian player to participate in the UEFA Champions League (with Bayern): with Hertha Berlin he scored two goals against Chelsea and one against Milan in the 1999/2000 season.

DSCN3670With the arrival of Carlos Queiroz On the Persian bench, we are witnessing greater discipline not only in the game but also off the field: as seen in the Brazilian World Cup, theIran It doesn’t rely so much on leaders as on team spirit, where everyone is important but no one has a guaranteed place. Except for one, and of course it is the captain Andranik “Ando” Teymourian: midfielder born in 1974, after his debut at the 2006 World Cup he became the idol of 80 million Iranians and played in England (Bolton, Fulham, Barnsley); He currently plays in his homeland for Machinsazi Tabriz , making him the highest-paid player in the league.

Ando belongs to the Armenian ethnic group, which represents the largest Christian community in the country: he is the first Christian captain of Iran, and last September 6 against China he reached 100 caps for the national team.

DSCN3657It’s a Iran is very interesting, with several young talents that we could soon see in Serie A: the winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh (born 1993) plays in the Eredivisie inAZ Alkmaar; the twenty-one-year-old striker Sardar Azmoun, known as the “Messi of Iran”, and Saeid Ezatollahi (born in 1996, former Atletico Madrid youth team), both play in Rostov who came close to the title last year in Russia, and who eliminated Ajax in the Champions League preliminaries.

Cover photo and article © Bruno Bottaro – MondoFutbol.com