Iran's Carlos Queiroz wary of South Korea, Qatar in World Cup qualifying
Iran head coach Carlos Queiroz says that both South Korea and Qatar should be considered favourites, ahead of them, to progress to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
That's despite Team Melli being Asia's highest ranked nation at 42nd in the world.
The Iranians were drawn in Group A alongside the Koreans, Qatar, China, Uzbekistan and Syria, with their opening game at home to the Qataris, 2022 World Cup hosts, on Sep.. 1.
"In our group, in the front line you have, for sure, the Koreans who are in front of all of us," former Real Madrid boss Queiroz told ESPN FC in Kuala Lumpur where the draw was held on Tuesday.
"Then you have Qatar. And then, in my opinion, you have three national teams, China, Iran and Uzbekistan. If they put in place a good preparation, they have a chance to compete."
The Oct. 11 game with South Korea in Tehran will be eagerly awaited, given the rivalry between the nations who have met in the previous two World Cup qualifying campaigns. They will also face off in South Korea on Aug. 31, 2017.
The Iranians have never lost a competitive match on home soil to the Koreans, but will need to cope with the departure of some senior players, including captain Javad Nekounam, since the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
"We have a completely new team from Australia's Asian Cup," Queiroz said.
"Basically, we only have three or four players [from then]. They are young, they are talented gifted players, but we need to find a way to give them the experience they need to compete at this level."
Head-to-head, Iran have 12 wins compared to nine for the Koreans, with seven draws.
But both Queiroz, and South Korea head coach Uli Stielike, are wary of the threat of China, who squeaked through to the third round on the final matchday of the previous phase.
Queiroz, who was Real Madrid manager in the 2003-04 season, added: "It will be difficult because China is improving a lot. They are putting in huge resources in terms of players and team preparation and they'll be a candidate."
The South Koreans begin their campaign with a home game against the Chinese on Sep. 1.
"We have a very exciting opener against China, our neighbours, and after that we have Iran," Stielike said.
"If you follow a little bit the history between Iran and Korea, I think it's not very good for Korea. So it's the time that we can bring a better result at home this time."
Group B features reigning Asian champions Australia, Japan, Thailand and West Asian heavyweights Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iraq. Formidable, but not as strong as Group A, says Stielike.
"Our group is a little bit more tough than Group B because I see more teams at the same level," Stielike said.
South Korea are trying to qualify for their 10th World Cup with Iran aiming for their fifth.