Iran take on Asian rivals Uzbekistan on Thursday in Tehran in an international friendly with an eye clearly on the World Cup to come in Russia next month.
Azadi Stadium, Tehran, Iran
Key Stat: Neither team has ever managed to score more than twice against the other in the seven previous meetings.
Expert Verdict: Ahead of the World Cup to come, Iran will need to figure out a way to score a couple of more goals than they usually do. This Iranian side have a very good ability to organize at the back, but they will find it very tough to do much of anything in Russia if they cannot score goals. They shouldn't have too much issues in terms of defeating Uzbekistan, but it may be a lot tougher to carry that over to the big event itself.
Carlos Queiroz has already called up a preliminary squad for the World Cup that consists of 35 players. That will have to lessened by 12 in the weeks to come, but for now we have a good idea of who will make it. There are few surprises in terms of those being left off, but defender Hossein Mahini, with 23 caps, seems to be the man with the most experience that will not make the team.
Iran need goals in order to compete in Russia, even in international football, which is typically cagey in comparison to club football. Sardar Azmoun is just one of the quality striking options that they have, but the key is to also get him, or whomever else they choose to play in his stead or alongside him, some help. The Rubin Kazan man is deadly, scoring 23 times in 31 appearances, despite being just 23 years old.
Iran have four wins and a loss in their last five matches:
2-1 home win vs Algeria
1-0 loss at Tunisia
4-0 home win vs Sierra Leone
0-1 win at Venezuela
2-1 home win vs Panama
Defenders:Ghafouri, Montazeri, Jalal Hosseini, Mohammadi
Midfielders:Ezatolahi, Hajsafi, Ansarifard
Forwards:Jahanbakhsh, Taremi, Azmoun
Timur Kapadze will be looking to build toward the next cycle in the hopes of taking this team just a step further than the last one. He has called in a team that is largely the same as the side that played in the friendlies back in March against Senegal and Morocco.
Uzbekistan have failed to win any of their last five matches, and a big part of the problem is the fact that they have only scored one single goal across those games. It's no wonder, then, that they just failed to make it to Russia. They need a consistent goal scorer, which is hard to come by in Asian football at times, so striker Marat Bikmaev is going to continue to be needed. The 32 year should have seen his best days go by him already, but they are going to need him to add to his five goals in 45 caps.
Uzbekistan have three losses and two draws in their last five matches:
2-0 loss at Morocco
1-1 draw at Senegal
1-0 loss at UAE
0-0 home draw vs South Korea (WCQ)
1-0 loss at China (WCQ)
Defenders:Mukhammadiev, Azamov, Ashurmatov, Zoteev
Midfielders:Allbaev, Musaev, Sidikov
Forwards:Rashidov, Masharipov, Bikmaev
Iran have faced Uzbekistan seven times since 2007, and they have largely dominated the ties so far, winning five of them, getting a draw in another, and losing just once. Here's a look at the last five results:
Jun 12, 2017: Iran 2-0 Uzbekistan (WCQ)
Oct 6, 2016: Uzbekistan 0-1 Iran (WCQ)
Jun 11, 2015: Uzbekistan 0-1 Iran (Friendly)
Nov 14, 2012: Iran 0-1 Uzbekistan (WCQ)
Jun 3, 2012: Uzbekistan 0-1 Iran (WCQ)
In World Cup qualification, both teams were in the same final group in AFC qualifying. They were each in Group A, but just one side ended up moving on. That, of course, was Iran, who topped the group easily with an undefeated record and only ten goals conceded over the course of ten games. Uzbekistan, meanwhile fell just short of a second chance at a spot via the play-in game for third place. They would end up on 13 points, tied with Syria, but they lost the tiebreaker and thus missed out a chance to face Australia in a playoff.
In the past year, Iran have lost just one time in 11 matches across qualifiers and friendlies. They won seven of the remaining ten matches, including a win over Panama and draws against South Korea and Russia, all of which will be at the World Cup this summer. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, have won just twice in past year in eight total matches. They have lost four of the six remaining games as well, showing they've had issues in the past year. They've lost five in a row since a friendly win over Kyrgyzstan.
Games between these two teams have been notoriously tight in the past, and the away side have tended to do well. That shouldn't be expected this time, but Uzbekistan should keep it close in Iran.