Tehran – Days after their 2-1 win over Montenegro in a friendly match, Carlos Queiroz and Team Melli are feeling upbeat as they prepare to host Uzbekistan on 12 June at Azadi Stadium.
A victory for Iran will mean qualification to the 2018 World Cup in Russia but Iranian fans will surely be a little skeptical of the Uzbeks due to the fact that the last three meetings between the two teams in competitive fixtures have resulted in 1-0 wins for the visiting team.
Back in June 2012, Iran left Tashkent with a 1-0 win on a stoppage time goal scored by Mohammadreza Khalatbari. Uzbek fans will always have a sour taste in their mouths from that match due to questionable officiating and because it was the Uzbeks that outplayed TM.
Five months later on a rainy night in Tehran, the roles were reversed as the Iranians were the better side but a volley from Ulugbek Bakayev beat Rahmati and stunned the fans in Azadi Stadium.
In October 2016, a header from Jalal Hosseini off a Masoud Shojaei freekick was all Iran needed to earn three points against the Uzbeks in Tashkent.
As it stands now Iran are on top of the group with seventeen points and have yet to concede a goal in the final round of qualification. The Uzbeks are third in the group with twelve points and only trail South Korea by one point.
The bottom line is that both teams will want this match very badly.
But this is exactly what Team Melli fans have been waiting for: the opportunity to qualify to the World Cup and using the final two qualifiers as warmups.
We have seen our beloved TM falter before in the final round of qualifying. At times it seems as if Iran always like to do things the hard way but this time they have the opportunity to seal qualification in front of their loud and intimidating fans for the first time since 2005.
A ticket to the World Cup is at stake and it is only fitting that victory over a former Soviet Republic will result in making travel plans to Russia.