Iran are appearing at their second consecutive World Cup for the first time in their history, and despite landing a group not many will envy leaving their chances of qualification a long shot at best, confidence will be flowing through the Iran ranks.


They have a revered manager in Carlos Queiroz, who has previously taken Portugal and South Africa to the World Cup - as well as leading Iran to the 2014 tournament - and finished their qualification campaign undefeated as they cruised to Russia. 

​​They have only won one match in four previous World Cup finals appearances, and will not be expected to do a whole lot more this time around, considering they've landed a group with European Champions Portugal, one of the pre-tournament favourites in Spain, and Morocco. Often, though, it's when the pressure is off that we see some of the biggest shocks at international tournaments. Could an in-form Iran be this year's dark horses?


How They Qualified

There aren't enough superlatives to accurately describe the impressive fashion in which Iran qualified for this year's FIFA World Cup. Over their ten games in the final stage of the Asian qualifiers, they didn't once lose, and didn't even concede until the final fixture - twice to Syria in a 2-2 draw - by which point they had already mathematically qualified, having done so two games earlier.


The only side in the world to achieve a better qualifying record was Brazil. What's peculiar about the campaign is that they did it without scoring an impressive amount of goals - managing just ten goals as they won six and drew four of their qualifying fixtures. 


Despite this, they harnessed the defensive rigidity that has characterised them under experienced coach Carlos Queiroz, easily finishing seven points clear of South Korea at the top of the group.


Group Stage Games

There will no doubt have been some wincing faces among the Iran faithful when their group was drawn. Any hopes they have of qualifying from the group stages for the first time in their history surely hinge on taking three points from their opening fixture against Morocco on the tournament's second match day; which will be no easy task in its own right.


Their other fixtures come against Spain on June 20 and Portugal on June 25 - two fixtures in which they will have to call upon all of the strength in defence which saw them qualify, and a large slice of luck, if they are to take anything.


Possible Route to the Final

Should Iran pull of the heist of the century and advance beyond the group stage ahead of - surely - either Spain or Portugal, they could well be rewarded with something of a winnable last 16 tie. 


Well, at least in comparison to the gruelling Spain and Portugal games they'll have to survive to get there. If they get through, they will likely face the winners of group A, which consists of hosts Russia, Mohamed Salah's Egypt, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia. Even making it to this stage would be an immensely historic moment in Iranian football history, but you can't imagine them doing much beyond the last 16. 


A potential quarter final would see them against either France or Croatia unless we see a bizarre turn of events elsewhere.


Squad List

Iran have announced a provisional 24 man squad for the upcoming World Cup.


Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand, Rashid Mazaheri, Amir Abedzadeh.


Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian, Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh, Morteza Pouraliganji, Pejman Montazeri, Seyed Majid Hosseini, Milad Mohammadi, Roozbeh Cheshmi.


Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi, Masoud Shojaei, Mehdi Torabi, Ashkan Dejagah, Omid Ebrahimi, Ehsan Hajsafi, Vahid Amiri, Ali Gholizadeh, Karim Ansarifard.


Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Saman Ghoddos, Mehdi Taremi, Sardar Azmoun, Reza Ghoochannejhad.


Predicted Lineup

(4-3-3) Alireza Beiranvand; Ramin Rezaeian, Seyed Majid Hosseini, Morteza Pouraliganji, Milad Mohammadi; Masoud Shojaei, Saeid Ezatolahi, Ehsan Hajsafi; Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Reza Ghoochannejhad, Sardar Azmoun.


Prediction

What separates Iran from most of the other 'underdog' sides that show up at the World Cup full of confidence only to take one point from their group and finish rock bottom, is that Iran are a very solid unit defensively and after their qualifying campaign, will fancy themselves to keep a clean sheet against just about anyone. 


Having said that, while they are an impressive side defensively, the quality possessed by Portugal and Spain means that to stand a realistic chance of qualifying, they will have to at some point step out and try and score goals. 


As such, they will be relying on one of Reza Ghoochannejhad or Sardar Azmoun to replicate Iranian legend Ali Daei and get amongst the goals. Confidence and defensive rigidity aside, though, it's not likely that Iran will qualify. In addition to calling upon the performances of their lives, they will need one of Portugal or Spain to have an absolute disaster. It's happened before, however, and nothing will stop this Iran side from dreaming. 


Well, Cristiano Ronaldo might.