Asia's greatest national teams: IR Iran (1970s)
Kuala Lumpur: Having looked at the World Cup winning Japan Women's team last week, the latest edition of this series remembers Islamic Republic of Iran's dominant national team from the 1970s.
The 1970’s were eventful in terms of football for Iran, as it saw them lift the AFC Asian Cup title twice - including their last title in the competition - as well as their first ever FIFA World Cup appearance.
Iran have remained at the forefront of Asian football since and are the second highest ranked Asian team in the latest FIFA Ranking.
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Team Melli's introduction to the continental scene was a grand one, as they took Asia by storm, winning the AFC Asian Cup title on their debut on home soil in 1968.
The following decade would see the Iranians prove their triumph at home was far from a coincidence, and that they were a force to be reckoned with in the entire continent.
Repeating the Trick
Four years on, and with the number of teams increased to six; Iran set out to defend their title in Thailand 1972. They were pitted against the hosts and neighbours Iraq in Group A.
Hossein Kalani bagged a hat-trick in the opening match as Team Melli dispatched the Lions of Mesopotamia 3-0 in Bangkok. Top spot in the group was sealed in style four days later. Ali Jabbari needed just eight minutes to net the fastest hat-trick in the history of the AFC Asian Cup, helping Iran come from behind to defeat Thailand 3-2.
Runners-up from Group B, Cambodia awaited in the semi-final, and goals from Safar Iranpak and Parviz Ghelichkhani were enough for head coach Mohammad Ranjbar's men to book a date in the final with Korea Republic.
In front of 15,000 fans in Bangkok, Jabbari's goal was cancelled out by Park Lee-chun, forcing extra-time. Kalani scored in the 108th minute to ensure the continental title remained in Tehran for four more years.
Three is a Charm
Back at home and under the guidance of legendary manager Heshmat Mohajerani, Team Melli still had a point to prove. Just as four years earlier, they would start their campaign against Iraq. And just like in Thailand, Iran were victorious; goals from Nasser Nouraei and Hassan Roshan sealed a 2-0 win.
The second game saw Mohajerani's men flex their muscles in what is still to date the largest win in AFC Asian Cup history; an 8-0 defeat of South Yemen. Kuwait had topped the other group, while China PR came second, meaning Team Dragon would face the hosts in the semi-finals.
A cagey affair saw no goals in 90 minutes, but the Iranians were finally able to break the deadlock through Alireza Khorshidi at the 100-minute mark. Roshan's second of the tournament confirmed a 2-0 win and a place in the final a minute before the final whistle.
In front of a record 100,000 passionate home fans at the iconic Azadi Stadium, the Iranians would settle for nothing less than the trophy, and it was the legendary Ali Parvin who scored the only goal of the night to calm the nerves and seal Iran's third AFC Asian Cup triumph.
The World Stage
Having established themselves as the undisputed dominant force in Asian football, Mohajerani's men set their eyes on the world stage. The target was FIFA World Cup Argentina 1978.
In the first round of the Qualifiers, Saudi Arabia and Syria were no match for Team Melli. Saudi Arabia were brushed aside 3-0 in Riyadh and 2-0 in Shiraz, while Syria withdrew from the return leg having lost 1-0 in Damascus, meaning Iran advanced to the final round of the Qualifiers with full marks and without conceding a single goal.
A more competitive second round saw Australia, Hong Kong, Korea Republic and Kuwait battle Iran for one ticket to Buenos Aires. Team Melli were held to two draws by Korea Republic, and won all their remaining six matches.
Losing to Australia and drawing Kuwait meant the Taeguk Warriors were left four points behind Iran who topped the group, earning their place as Asia's proud representatives at the 1978 FIFA World Cup.
On their FIFA World Cup debut, Iran found themselves pitted against eventual runners-up Netherlands, and an iconic Peru side featuring the legendary Teofillo Cubillas, as well as Scotland.
Rob Rensenbrink demonstrated a glimpse of his ability, scoring all three-goals as the Netherlands beat Iran 3-0 in the opening match. Iraj Danaeifard won the honour of becoming the first Iranian to score in a FIFA World Cup, but his goal was cancelled out by an unfortunate Andranik Eskandarian own goal, meaning Team Melli walked away with just a point against Scotland.
The campaign concluded with a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Peru with Cubillas getting a hat-trick and Roshan adding his name as Iran's second scorer at the FIFA World Cup. The trip to South America was the culmination of a decade of success for Team Melli.
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