June 24, 2022
By Iman Sadri
Team Melli has qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The boys of Iran have qualified for the last three World Cup’s, however have never advanced past the Group stage. The squad has an impressive lineup, led by Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi. To get up on all things Team Melli we did a Q+A with Team Melli Talk founder Art Eftekhari.
Iman Sadri : Describe Your Early Life, Education and Upbringing.
Art Eftekhari : I grew up in Orange County and was brought up in the quiet suburbs. Growing up with an Iranian father, I obviously was lectured many times about the importance of education. My dad always demanded straight As, but that never happened. As a kid, school did not come first for me. I was more concerned with sports and watching my favorite teams on TV. My dad taught me how to play soccer when I was seven. It took me some time to get better at the game, but my dad would eventually realize that he created a monster because I love soccer and I am always glued to the TV during the World Cup or whenever Iran is playing.
IS : What were the early inspirations that got you involved in soccer reporting?
Art Eftekhari : I have been watching the national team of Iran religiously since 1997. Naturally, I spent a lot of time on websites that cover the national team of Iran. And there were times when I would find myself getting annoyed at the content because of inaccuracies. My memory is perfect when it comes to remembering which player scored against a certain national team in World Cup qualifying. So, I started messaging the staff and told them they needed to make some corrections. When they responded, they asked me if I wanted to contribute. I was surprised and didn’t know what to say at that moment. But I said yes. One thing led to another, I got some good training and eventually created my own blog and podcast. And since 2018, my show – Team Melli Talk – has been on YouTube and it continues to grow. Make sure to subscribe!
IS : What has been your favorite Team Melli in the last 40 years and why?
Art Eftekhari : Definitely the 1998 World Cup team. I watched many games from the final round of the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign, and it was my first-time following Team Melli. The 1998 World Cup squad will always be special to me. I still remember how excited I was to wake up every Friday at 5 AM to watch Iran play on TV. In those days I was in high school, and I had trouble waking up just to get to school on time. But I never had trouble waking up early to watch Team Melli. In fact, I had to wake up my dad as well. I still remember how nervous I was watching those World Cup qualifiers and I will never forget the Miracle at Melbourne when Iran clinched qualification in such a dramatic way against Australia. That is a night I wish I could relive.
IS : If you can put together your all-time Team Melli who would be in the lineup?
Art Eftekhari :
GK – Ahmadreza Abedzadeh
DF – Andranik Eskandarian
DF – Mohammad Khakpour
DF – Jalal Hosseini
DF – Mehrab Shahrokhi
MF – Mehdi Mahdavikia
MF – Javad Nekounam
MF – Karim Bagheri
MF – Ali Karimi
FW – Hassan Rowshan
FW – Ali Daei
IS : What are your thoughts on the upcoming Team Melli squad for World Cup 2022 and their chances to compete?
Art Eftekhari : I think this will be one of the best Team Melli squads ever to appear at a World Cup. I am excited to see how much more dangerous Iran will be with Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi coming to the tournament with more experience and leadership. Iran has a chance to compete and get positive results, but the lack of preparation matches definitely is a cause for concern. But nonetheless, I am still positive and believe in our Team Melli.
IS : What do you think about Team Melli’s opponent schedule? Who do they line up best against?
Art Eftekhari : The schedule is tough because the first match is against England. The first match can really set the tone in the group stage. I would say that Iran lines up best against Wales because aside from Gareth Bale, the midfield of Wales is not very intimidating, and I can see Iran attacking and creating chances.
IS : Which Team Melli players are playing International Soccer on solid club teams? Can you give updates for the top 8 Team Melli players?
Art Eftekhari :
Sardar Azmoun – Bayer Leverkusen
Mehdi Taremi – FC Porto
Allahyar Sayyadmanesh – Hull City
Alireza Jahanbakhsh – Feyenoord
Ali Gholizadeh – Charleroi
Sadegh Moharrami – Dinamo Zagreb
Majid Hosseini – Kayserispor
Amir Abedzadeh – Ponferradina
IS : Can you give an evaluation of how Team Melli matches up with the opponents in their group? Now that the opponents are set? Please give a preview of each match up.
Art Eftekhari :
England v Iran: It is really difficult to say how Iran matches up with England. To be honest, I don’t think Iran matches up well at all with England. As we know, England will be out for blood after making it to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and finishing second at Euro 2020. In order for Iran to have a fighting chance against England, Team Melli must use tactics from the famous Carlos Queiroz by parking the bus and hoping to capitalize on any mistakes from England. In this match, Iran will have to make the most of set pieces because those will likely be Iran’s only scoring opportunities. The long ball tactics will not work at all because the English center-backs are tough to beat, and we saw Azmoun struggle against Spain and Portugal four years ago.
Iran v Wales : The Welsh team will be tough and trying to stop Gareth Bale won’t be easy. But this is a match that I really look forward to with excitement because I think Iran will have a good shot at scoring a victory. First, Iran will have to frustrate and slow down Gareth Bale. But the other key will be to win the battle in the middle third of the field and I think this is very possible because the majority of Welsh midfielders are not playing in top leagues. For example, Aaron Ramsey is currently playing for Rangers in Scotland, and he is past his prime. In simple English, Iran will have the edge as long as Omid Ebrahimi, Saied Ezatolahi, and Saman Ghoddos are able to dominate possession and distribute the ball to the wingers.
Iran v USA : Many people think Iran’s best chance for a win is against the United States. But I totally disagree because USA has very dangerous midfielders such as Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Velencia), and Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig). Don’t get me wrong, I know Iran has a chance to win. But if Iran is going to be successful against the United States, the attacks must come from the flanks, and we need to see Team Melli expose the weaknesses of USA’s center-backs. Whether it be through connecting on crosses in the air or the occasional long balls where we can see Azmoun and Taremi work their magic.
IS : How have you been able to bring on some of the Team Melli coaches to interview them? Can you share some insight into the interviews with Team Melli members that you’ve brought on?
Art Eftekhari Social media is what I use to get into contact with Team Melli coaches. I recently interviewed assistant coach, Marijo Tot. As for insight, this is a tough question to answer because a lot of the questions I ask are not directly answered. But to be honest, I have been watching sports my whole life and I know what to expect when it comes to interviews.
IS : Which Team Melli members would you like to interview (present players and former players)? What would you ask any of the former/current players?
Art Eftekhari This is another very tough question. But it is a question that I really like. To be honest, I would love the opportunity to interview the amazing, Khodadad Azizi. Naturally, there would be numerous questions that I would like to ask him. But if I had only one question, this is what it would be: “How does it feel to have scored the most important goal in the history of Iranian football?”