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 Posted by Afshin Afshar
Jun 15, 2014

13 things you might not know about Iran

In Brazil 2014, the Iranians will pursue their second FIFA World Cup win ever, and to achieve that target, manager Carlos Queiroz has used his vast expertise to instill a winning mentality in his squad.

Team Melli kick off their 2014 World Cup campaign against Nigeria on Monday in Arena da Baixada in Curitiba. With the likes of Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina to come, Iran are considered the outsiders competing for one of the top two spots in Group F, and their first game in Brazil is going to be a huge event back home.

The country is passionate about football, and tens of thousands of fans take to the streets when the team finds success. Outside of Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah and captain Javad Nekounam, however, the casual fan might not know too much about Iran's team, so here are 13 facts that might be of interest:

1. Football was introduced to Iran by English petroleum workers in the 19th century. The game's popularity started in the southern region of Khuzestan and then quickly spread throughout the country. Iran played their first match ever in the thick of World War II, against the Afghan National Team in 1941 in Afghanistan, and their first official FIFA match nine years later in Turkey.

2. Many of the most technical players in Iranian football history, such as Gholam Hossein Mazloomi, Abdolreza Barzegari and current star Masoud Soleimani Shojaei, have come from Abadan and other southern cities. A large number of fans in Khuzestan admire the individual flair of Brazilian football, and when the Abadan-based Sanat Naft FC was founded in 1972, the founders chose the Brazilian yellow, green and blue as their colors. To this day, Khuzestan is referred to as the "Brazil of Iran" by many Iranian soccer fans.

3. Team Melli is a truly multiethnic, cultural and lingual team. In total, the members of the coaching staff and team were born on five different continents, hold more than five different passports, share more than 10 different mother tongues and come from various religious backgrounds.

4. Team Melli's most frequent opponent are neighbours Kuwait. The two sides have met 28 times, and Iran boasts a 12-7 edge over the fellow West Asians.

5. The faded shadow thing you see on the left side of the Iran shirt is not sweat; it is the figure of the native Asiatic Cheetah that is facing extinction. The symbol was placed there to raise awareness about the beautiful cat's fate. See it here.

6. Iran's best win was a 19-0 win over Guam; their worst defeat was a 6-1 loss to Turkey. Both matches were friendlies.

7. Iran's most favorable goal difference is a +49 in 15 matches against Pakistan, and the worst is -11 in nine encounters with Turkey.

8. Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina have met five times since 2001, and Iran hold a 4-0 edge on the Bosnians (three home wins, one away and one draw). The most recent encounter was in 2009 in Sarajevo and ended with a 3-2 Team Melli victory.

9. Iran and Argentina once played a friendly in front of 35,00 fans in Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. It was in 1977, and the occasion was the 75th anniversary of Real Madrid. The two teams reached the semifinals of the four-team tournament and tied 1-1 in regular time, and Argentina prevailed in the ensuing penalty shootout.

10. Former Team Melli striker Ali Daei is the world's top international goal scorer, with 109 goals in 149 matches (0.73 goals per match). He participated in two World Cups (1998 and 2006) but did not score.

11. Members of the current squad play or have played in the top German, Russian, Spanish, Dutch and English leagues. Also, 20-year-old midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh was voted the Dutch Eredivisie's greatest talent of the 2013-14 season.

12. Midfielder Ashkan Dejagah played all his international youth football for Germany, U17 to U21, but decided to commit his international senior career to Team Melli.

13. Despite deep political tensions, Iran and Israel have played a total of five FIFA-sanctioned matches. The first was in 1958 and ended 4-0 for Israel, and the latest was a 1-0 win for Iran in 1974. Iran holds a 3-1 edge over Israel in this rivalry.