Opinion

Revenge for ‘97 may be nice but Australia needs closer ties with Iran

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That infamous 1998 FIFA World Cup playoff against Iran was another reminder for Australia that joining the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) was a good idea in terms of World Cup qualification and plenty of other reasons besides. Out of pain came a whole lot of good.

I wonder if, on January 1 2006 when Australia officially became a member of the Asian football family, whether it was at the back of any minds that there would be ample time and opportunities for some revenge against Iran.

It is a little ironic then that after 15 years in the same confederation, the paths of the two countries have not crossed in any meaningful fashion at the senior level. If the Socceroos were hoping to give Team Melli a taste of their late nineties medicine then that dish is going to be served very cold indeed.

Interestingly, Australia have created history and relationships with the three other Asian powerhouses that went to the 2006 World Cup.

There is obviously a clear rivalry with Japan that has developed over many memorable meetings. There has been a dramatic Asian Cup final win over South Korea and a host of Aussies going to the K-League. It is not just about East Asia either. In Saudi Arabia, there is the small matter of that never to be forgotten 2014 AFC Champions League final win by Western Sydney Wanderers over Al-Hilal.

But with Iran? There is little to talk about, The national teams haven’t played each other, clubs have yet to meet in the Champions League and apart from a handful of appearances from Reza Ghoochannejhad for Sydney FC in 2019, there has been little Iranian presence in the A-League.

There is not much that can be done about the first two and it could change at any time. Australia may well play Iran in the final round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup but that depends on the draw. A-League clubs would have to reach the final of the Champions League for a chance to face Iranian opposition and that combination may take some time to happen.

Looking at Iran as a source of talent is a worthy endeavour though.

And there is a lot of talent. Compared to other nations in West Asia, Iranians go to Europe in impressive numbers. Salaries at home are not close to those in nearby Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar which plays a part but among Iranian players there is usually a desire to get some overseas experience and to prove themselves on the international stage.

One story that has been under-reported is the success of Iranian forwards in Europe in recent seasons. Kaveh Rezari was the third top goalscorer in Belgium last season as he banged in the goals for Charleroi and Karim Ansarifard has been scoring regularly for AEK Athens.

Sardar Azmoun has been tearing it up in Russia and UEFA competitions for some time and it is surely only a matter of time before one of those numerous links to bigger clubs in bigger leagues actually materialises and the 26 year-old leaves Zenit St-Petersburg.

For some time now, Iranian fans have been singing the praises of Azmoun, insisting that he is the best Asian striker around. Now however, there is another name mentioned more and more.

It was clear that Azmoun was obviously a special talent even before he left his homeland for Rubin Kazan in 2013 at the age of 2017. Mehdi Taremi’s rise was less obvious however. The 28 year-old, last seen sliding in the penalty area to open the scoring for FC Porto against the mighty Juventus in the first leg in the second round of the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, took a little time to get going but it was worth the wait.

Taremi was always powerful, hard-working and a handful and always scored goals but even when he was two-time top scorer in the Persian Gulf League, not many thought that he would be able to do the same at the very highest levels.

Yet he has improved so much. Moving to Rio Ave in Portugal in July 2019, he was joint top scorer of the Portugese league --an amazing achievement in his first season in Europe as he helped Rio Ave finish fifth. That earned a move to FC Porto in August and he has carried on scoring and at the moment, he is one of the most in-form strikers in Europe.

There is more where he came from and Australian clubs should take a closer look at what the country has to offer.

 

Source SBS The World Game