Things are bad right now for Team Melli, the national team of Iran. But it is not the bad feeling after a disappointing loss to Bahrain in October.
Even top teams in Asia experience bad results on the road occasionally.
But after the latest crushing blow to Iraq in Amman on 14 November, Iran is now dealing with the reality that missing out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is very possible.
Back in June 2018, Iran came so close to defeating Portugal and booking a spot in the knockout phase of the World Cup for the first time ever.
Despite barely missing out on going to the second round, Team Melli returned home as heroes.
But here we are now, nearly eighteen months since Team Melli’s best performance in a World Cup, and Iranian football fans surely aren’t thinking of their national team members as heroes.
Iran is currently third in Group C with six points after two wins and two losses.
Team Melli got off to a good start in qualifying after wins against Hong Kong and Cambodia.
But consecutive defeats away from home against Bahrain and Iraq now have Iranian football fans calling for Wilmots to be sacked.
It is hard to believe that Iran can be in such a terrible position after earning a win, a loss, and draw at the 2018 World Cup against Morocco, Spain, and Portugal respectively.
Yet things have changed since then and Carlos Queiroz – the man who coached Iran from 2011 to 2019 – is no longer calling the shots for Team Melli.
There was plenty of concern among Iranian football experts when Wilmots was hired as coach of Team Melli and unfortunately, those concerns have turned out to be correct.
Whoever watched Iran’s last match against Iraq, it was evident that Team Melli looked nothing like the highest ranked team in Asia.
But in order to understand why Iran was so bad, we need to analyze three important aspects.
Even before the match began, Iranian football experts and fans were alarmed when they saw midfielder Masoud Shojaei in the starting lineup. At 35-years-old, there is literally no reason for Shojaei to be called up to Team Melli anymore, unless it is for farewell friendly match.
How could it be that Wilmots, a Belgian coach, did not want to put Kaveh Rezaei or Ali Gholizadeh into the starting lineup after their recent good form for Charleroi in the top-flight of Belgium?
Sadly, it appears that Wilmots thinks the Iranian Pro League is lightyears above the top football league in Belgium.
Unfortunately for Iran, left-back Milad Mohammadi had to be replaced by debutant Mohammad Naderi because of injury.
But as for the other two substitutions, first Wilmots showed his incompetence when he subbed out Mehdi Taremi for Vahid Amiri. It was at this moment when I was shocked and couldn’t believe that Ali Gholizadeh still hadn’t seen the field.
It is true that Amiri was one of the hugest surprises for Iran at the World Cup, but this is not 2018.
As for the last substitution, Kaveh Rezaei made it to the pitch, but in the 90th minute when he came on to replace Sardar Azmoun.
And to add insult to injury, Shojaei was sent off in the 81st minute after receiving his second yellow card. Why wasn’t Shojaei subbed out after his yellow card early in the second half?
Out of all the things to analyze, it is frustrating to even talk about Iran’s strategy against Iraq because there was no strategy.
By the looks of it, Wilmots appeared to be comfortable with Iran playing the longball in hopes of something good happening.
Ahmad Nourollahi did score a goal in the first half, but the second half was a disaster as Team Melli hardly threatened or tested Iraqi keeper Jalal Hasan.
Aside from Wilmots’ failures, it also needs to be pointed out that some of the blame lies with the Team Melli players.
On more than one occasion, Iran gave the ball away and had trouble connecting passes. Players were waiting for the ball instead of going to the ball.
It is hard to believe that Iran could play so poorly.
But the bottom line is that the majority of blame lies on Wilmots because he has shown Team Melli supporters that he is not the right man for the job and his players clearly aren’t willing to fight for him.
And to make matters worse, it appears that Wilmots may not be fired in the near future.
But if the Iranian Football Federation is not willing to make a change, then the Iranian footballers must take it upon themselves to tune out Wilmots and play the way Carlos Queiroz taught them how to play.
The Belgian national team players reached their breaking point when they decided to ignore Wilmots’ strategy at Euro 2016.
Iran may miss out on the next World Cup. But it is much better to go down fighting instead of going onto the pitch with no plan at all.