Iran’s football federation was launched in Persia in 1920, but did not reach the biggest stage until the 1978 World Cup.
A year later the Iranian revolution took place and Iranian football regressed under the new regime.
At its core, however, the depths of Iran’s national team are rooted in the Persian Kingdom, not the Islamic regime that has ruled the country since 1979.
Rooted in Persia
In 1926, during the Royal House of Pahlavi founded by Reza Shah, the imperial state of Persia created its first national team called the ‘Tehran XI’, an amalgamation of players from two prototypical football clubs: Tehran FC and Armenian SC.
The latter, a predecessor of ‘Ararat Tehran’, an Iranian club that requires players to have an Armenian lineage. Its name, ‘Ararat’, refers to the biblical mountain where Noah’s ark landed.
Between 1926 and 1929, the Tehran XI from Persia competed in seven matches against the Soviet Union, resulting in an under-par record of 0-1-6.
In 1935, Reza Shah departed from the Persia moniker and declared the “land of the Aryans” as Iran.
After World War II, the Iranian federation became a member of FIFA in 1948.
However, since international football came to a halt due to a global cataclysm, a whole generation of Iranians were unable to compete in major tournaments.
Therefore, from 1950 to 1970, the Kingdom of Iran did not enter the World Cup qualifications. However, that time gave rise to neophytes who discovered his latent talent. Very soon, the Kingdom of Iran became a three-time champion.
Iranian Cheetahs – 3x Asian Champions
From 1968 to 1976, the US-backed Iran boasts three AFC Asian Cup championships. His team nicknamed the ‘Iranian cheetahs’, a tribute to the last remnant of an endangered species. During that treble, the Cheetahs were managed by French Iranian midfielder Parviz Ghelichkhani.
However, in 1977, after 14 goals and 66 appearances, Parviz was forced to retire from international duty by Iran’s monarchy for political reasons.
This political objective saw Parviz jailed for two months in 1972 and he was eventually banned from the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
However, Parviz showed stellar performances, attracting the attention of the San Jose Earthquakes. In 1978, he made his swan song with 16 appearances for the Bay Area team, wearing his iconic No. 5 jersey for The Goonies.
Despite his absence from Argentina 1978, Parviz passed the torch to a trio: the late goalkeeper Nasser Hejazi, Persepolis winger Ali Parvin and ‘Crown FC’s ostentatious number 10 Hassan Rowshan. Together, Iran was determined to make a name for themselves on the big football stage.
world cup 1978
At the 1978 World Cup, Iran dressed in Adidas kits and ‘World Cup’ kangaroo leather boots. Armed with the best team, the ‘Cheetahs’ faced tough opposition in their group: the Netherlands, Scotland and Peru.
On Matchday 1, Rob Rensenbrink’s hat-trick lifted the Dutch to a 3-0 shutout, but Team Melli did not lose momentum. The Cheetahs embarked on a match against a formidable Scotland.
Unfortunately, in that match, the Iranian-Armenian defender Andranik Eskandarian conceded his own goal in the penultimate minutes of the first half. However, Iran retaliated in the 61st minute when a midfielder, the late Iraj Danaeifard, equalized 1-1.
After the match ended in a draw, the ecstatic kingdom of Iranian football fans immersed themselves in the optimistic spirit that their national team had won their first World Cup goal, not to mention their first point in the group stage.
As a result, the Iranian players became overconfident. All signs pointed towards matchday three: the winner would secure advancement to the next round. Unfortunately, Iran underestimated their opponent, a tactical and technical Peru.
Iran knew that the match against Peru was a “must win” situation. Thus, they entered the match with a relentless attack that exposed their defense. As a result, Peru capitalizes on breakaways and dead balls, proving the victory, 4-1. But Team Melli walked off the pitch at the Estadio Mario Kempes in Córdoba, knowing they would return to an euphoric fan base at home.
Iranian players in American football
In 1978, the NASL, the now-defunct American Soccer League, was the equivalent of MLS, and the New York Cosmos was its highest-profile team. In the end, it worked for Andy Eskandarian. Despite conceding an ‘own goal’ against Scotland and being on the bench against Peru, the defender was signed by the Cosmos.
Additionally, between 2003 and 2010, his New Jersey-born son scored thirty goals in 125 appearances for five MLS teams. A mandate that he began with DC United and ended with LA Galaxy. The University of Virginia alum currently works in MLS player development.
Ultimately, French-Iranian Parviz Ghelichkhani and Armenian-Iranian Andy Eskandarian left their bilitoral mark on American soccer. The former retired in San Jose, while the latter played center back in 142 appearances for New York.
Iran’s contribution to Asian football
In the 1970s, Iranian football showed signs of a promising future. The team players were evolving their technical skills. But like many nations, Iranian players became masters of the rudiments by emulating Johan Cruyff’s ‘total football’ and Italy’s ‘Door-Bolt’ defence.
From 1972 to 1979, the federation’s president, Kambiz Atabay, managed Iran’s national team as winners of the 1974 Asian Games and the 1976 Asian Cup. In addition, Iran qualified for the 1976 Olympic Games and the Asian Cup. of the World of 1978 under his supervision. Not to mention that Kambiz served as president of the AFC throughout his career. Historically, his tenure has been the most successful of the Iranian federation presidents.
Unfortunately, due to the Islamic hijacking of Iran, Kambiz Atabay’s term ended on February 17, 1979, six days after the Shah’s overthrow. As a result, Iranian football fell apart. Despite placing third in the 1980 Asian Cup, Iran withdrew from the World Cup in Spain in 1982. Also, Iran placed fourth in the 1984 edition of the Asian Cup. However, they were suspended from the Mexico 1986 World Cup due to the internal war with Iraq.
A quest for redemption
Under the US-backed Kingdom of Iran, one can only wonder wistfully how much Iranian football might have evolved.
Throughout the 1980s, the absence of two World Cups stifled the progress of the 1970s. However, especially after showing promise on their debut in 1978, he points out that Iran could have been ahead of their qualification. current FIFA, 22.
In 2022, Carlos Queiroz’s Iran have the potential to stun Group B. But unfortunately, his team is under the shadow of the political unrest at home that dominates international news.
If Iran succeeds in Qatar and advances to the knockout stage, it could add fuel to the fire at home.
World Cup 2022 Guide
Here are some resources to help you get the most out of soccer’s biggest event!