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England vs Iran: Can Taremi help cause an early World Cup upset?

Posted on November 21, 2022

On their way to lifting the Champions League in 2021, Chelsesa beat FC Porto 2-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals. The Blues did enough in Portugal to book their semi-final spot and while a fairly routine and mundane affair between the two sides, there was a moment of magic in the dying embers of the two-legged clash.

In the 93rd-minute at Stamford Bridge, Mehdi Taremi scored a sublime bicycle kick as he connected perfectly with Nanu's cross from the right to leave Edouard Mendy rooted to the spot and set up a fairly nervy finish in west London. While Porto were unable to overhaul the two-goal deficit, Taremi can take solace from his Goal of the Season award.

The 30-year-old has been a consistent force for Porto following his arrival from Rio Ave in 2020 having struck double figures for both goals and assists for the Portuguese powerhouse in his two full seasons at the Dragao. 42 goals and 28 assists in 79 league outings for Porto is a fine return, though their dominance relative to the rest of the league means he should be expected to score freely for the Portuguese outfit.

The hope for Iran now is whether Taremi can transfer his excellent club form to the international stage. The 30-year-old has scored 28 goals in 60 outings for Iran, a solid record, but then of those 28, only four have come against teams ranked in the top 50 in the world - Uruguay (14), Algeria (37) and Qatar twice (50).

Of course, that isn't a dig at Taremi - he can only score against opponents put in front of him - but that Iran unsurprisingly struggle against teams ranker higher. With Carlos Queiroz back at the helm, Team Melli will be difficult to break down. We saw how robust Egypt were at AFCON 2021 as Queiroz masterminded the Pharaohs to a place in the final, only to fall to Senegal at the last hurdle.

Mohamed Salah may have been the one to watch for Egypt last January, yet it was the resoluteness of Queiroz's side that played a key role in their progression to African football's showpiece event. One would expect a similar tact from Iran at the World Cup, and like Queiroz with Egypt, he has a world class forward to hurt teams on the counter.

Iran can be expected to soak up pressure and frustrate England on Monday afternoon, and the longer the game wears on, the more confident Queiroz's team will be that they can spring an upset. Since the start of the 2020/21 Liga Bwin season, only Salvador Agra (8) has had more attempts on goal from a counter-attacking situation than Taremi (7) and while the Iranian hasn't scored any of these chances, it serves to highlight the threat the latter carries when his team breaks forward with speed.

Considering the searing heat in Qatar, if Iran can frustrate England, then this well lead to lapses in concentration that can be exploited, with Taremi set to provide the focal point to this Iran attack in Qatar. Of course, given the way Queiroz's Egypt side performed at AFCON last year - only Gabon (26.3) committed more fouls per game than Egypt (19.7) in 2021 - this could result in England capitalising from set-piece situations.

No team scored more set-piece goals, excluding penalties, than England (3) at the Euros last summer, with the Three Lions boatsing the personnel to both put in a fine delivery and tuck these chances away. From the penalty spot, meanwhile, England can call upon Harry Kane to hit the back of the net from 12 yards, noted in that since the start of the 2020/21 season, only Jorginho (15) and Salah (11) have scored more Premier League penalties than Kane (10).

Yes, he missed in the Euros semi-final against Denmark, ultimately scoring the rebound, and blazed over from the spot against Eintracht Frankfurt last month, but now within two goals of matching Wayne Rooney's England record, Kane will feel confident of writing his name into the history books in Qatar.

Iran may prove to be masters of the dark arts, and England will find their opening Group B game tougher to navigate than many may care to admit, but both nations have a top quality forward in the ranks that can do the damage in Qatar. Group B is perhaps one of the tougher to call, but with Taremi on the books, Queiroz will feel confident of managing his side to the knockout stages this month, starting with an upset against England in matchday one.