Azadi Stadium, Tehran
24 March, 2016


It is a mismatch on cards as the 160th ranked Indian Football team travels to Tehran to take on the 44th ranked Iranian team. The gulf between the two teams is evident from the fact that while Iran lead Group D of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, while India are sitting right at the bottom. Iran won the reverse leg in Bangalore with a 3-0 margin and would be eager to do the double over the Blue Tigers who will look to keep the scoreline respectable.

Team News And Tactical Brief


Team Melli haven’t had the best of qualification campaigns and dropped points away from home against both Turkmenistan and Oman. Carlos Queiroz however would be hoping to pick up all six points on offer in the last two encounters against India and Oman – both of which happen to be  home matches.

With country’ first choice custodian Alireza Haghighi out injured and second choice Alireza Beiranvand out due to suspension, either of Mohammad-Reza Akhbari or Rashid Mazaheri could play their first match for Iran. Regular skipper Andranik Teymourian is out due to an injury and in his place center-back Jalal Hosseini will captain the side. The 34 year old is one shy of 100 national team caps and will lead the defense. He is likely to be accompanied in the deep defense by the highly rated 23-year-old Morteza Pouraliganji, who plays  for Al Sadd in the Qatar Stars League.

Having signed a contract with second division German club FSV Frankfurt at the start of the season, 25-year-old Ehsan Hajsafi will occupy his place on the left side of the midfield. Hajsafi has played for Iran at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels, and is a vital member of the senior team having amassed 72 caps so far. 21-year-old Mehdi Torabi is expected to take the spot on the opposite flank. With India likely to sit back and defend, both Hajsafi and Torabi are more likely to be seen contributing to the attacks from the flanks.

In the central midfield Andranik Teymourian’ s place will be taken by the 19-year-old Saeid Ezatolahi who plays for Rostov in the Russian Premier League. Ezatolahi scored in Iran’ s 3-1 win over Turkmenistan last year and in process became the youngest goalscorer for his country. In 2014 he was named as one of the most talented football players according to Wonderkids.

He is likely to be accompanied in the middle of the park by Omid Ebrahimi. Ashkan Dejagah is likely to start on the left side of the midfield. Having  won the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship with Germany, Dejagah started playing for Iran in 2011 after Carlos Queiroz invited him. 22-year-old Alireza Jahanbakhsh who plays in the Dutch League for AZ Alkmaar will been seen in the right midfield role. Jahanbakhsh is rated highly and in 2014 he was voted the second greatest young talent of the 2013–14 Eredivisie season.

Nicknamed as the Iranian Messi, 21-year-old Sardar Azmoun will lead the attack for Persian giants. Azmoun scored the opening game against India in the reverse leg and has eight international goals in 14 outings at the senior level. Accompanying him in the attack will be Mehdi Taremi who comes into the match having scored a brace in the previous world cup qualifier against Guam.

Possible Starting XI (4-4-2): Mohammad-Reza Akhbari; Ehsan Hajsafi, Morteza Pouraliganji, Jalal Hosseini, Mehdi Torabi; Ashkan Dejagah, Saeid Ezatolahi, Omid Ebrahimi, Alireza Jahanbakhsh; Sardar Azmoun, Mehdi Taremi

Probable Starting XI

Probable Starting XI


The big news from the Indian camp is that skipper Sunil Chhetri will miss the tie due to a groin injury he sustained in the I-League. Chhetri has been the leader of the Indian team for quite sometime now and has inspired the team in addition to being the main source of goals. It remains to be seen how the team copes up with his absence in this tough match. Constantine has announced that his focus is on the match against Turkmenistan and his main aim in the match would be to avoid a heavy defeat.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu established himself as the first choice custodian for team India last year and there is no reason why the Stabaek FC goalkeeper will not start against Iran. Sandhu is expected to have a busy outing under the bar and he will be the key player if India have to keep Iran at bay. Sandesh Jhingan comes into the match having recovered from an injury that saw him miss the SAFF Championships.

Jhingan won a lot of accolades for his brave performance in the reverse leg at Bengaluru and he would be keen to produce another such outing. Arnab Mondal of East Bengal is expected to accompany him in the deep defense. Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das will be seen in the right back and left back roles for the Blue Tigers. The Indian back four will have to be on their toes throughout the match and avoid any lapse in concentrations against more fancied opponents.

Constantine is expected to start with a five man midfield in a bid to crowd the midfield. With Eugeneson missing due to an injury, the trio of Pranoy Halder, Rowlin Borges and Harmanjot Singh Khabra will be seen marshaling the central midfield for the Blue Tigers. Halder in particular is having a stellar season with the Mariners, where he has excelled as a box to box midfielder, and he will be looking to announce his arrival on the big stage with a strong performance in this match. He will however have to be careful with his tackles as he has already picked up a yellow and a second yellow in this tie could see him miss the next match against Turkmenistan.

Bikash Jairu has been in impressive form since the SAFF Championships and has been one of the best performers in the I League season so far. The East Bengal player is expected to lineup on the left flank and his crosses will be a main source of Indian attacks. After a good showing in the SAG games, Udanta Singh is expected to make his senior team debut against Iran. The highly rated Bengaluru FC midfielder is expected to start on the right flank where he will look to trouble the Iranian team with his pace and trickery.

Skipper for the tie, Jeje Lalpekhlua comes into the match in a rich vein of form and will lead the attack in the absence of Sunil Chhetri. Jeje has so far scored eight goals in eleven games for Mohun Bagan and will look to carry his form in this crucial match.

Possible Starting XI (4-5-1): Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Narayan Das, Sandesh Jhingan, Arnab Mondal, Pritam Kotal; Bikas Jairu, Pronay Halder, Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Rowllin Borges, Udanta Singh; Jeje Lalpekhlua


Iran 4-0 India

Iran are overwhelming favorites to win this tie against a weakened Indian team which is missing three of its important players due to injuries. TheHardTackle predicts an easy win for the hosts.

Blast From The Past

Here is a recap from what happened in the first leg of the qualifiers in Bengaluru.

Take into account such important procedures as pre-reading, writing prompt, and so on

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