Iran will go into this year’s World Cup finals as clear underdogs but, unlike in past years, they have Alireza Jahanbakhsh to add attacking flair to their somewhat defensive setup.
The 24-year-old Iranian winger, now in his fifth season in the Netherlands, became the first Asian to win the Dutch league golden boot in 2018, scoring 21 goals in 33 appearances for his team AZ Alkmaar
His performances across the season, helped them clinch third spot, ensuring Europa league football next season as his side picked up a points tally of 71: their best since the 2008/09 season.
Jahanbakhsh was noticed and tracked by Napoli in his third season with the club. However, with his contract with AZ Alkmaar not running out until 2020, there is no chance that the Dutch side will let him go cheaply.
If Iran do the unthinkable and make it out of the group stages this summer, there’s a big chance that Jahanbakhsh will turn the heads of owners and managers around the world.
The 2017-18 season has been something of a whirlwind for Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Apart from a hamstring injury picked up in March which saw him sidelined for two weeks, he has been in the thick of the action for Alkmaar, his 21 goals making him the club's as well as the league's top scorer.
In big games, in particular, Jahanbakhsh has provided goals and assists for AZ, helping them win games sometimes at the death.
For example, his hat-trick in their 4-3 win against Vitesse in the latter stages of the season proved to be pivotal in their securing of third place.
The young Iranian continued this form into May, providing clinical assists and crucial goals and finishing the season strong.
Despite being prolific for his domestic side, Jahanbakhsh has struggled to reproduce this form for Iran over the last year in qualifiers.
He failed to score in five of Iran’s qualifiers before breaking this drought in November 2017, sealing a 1-0 victory against Venezuela.
Since the win, he has slowly improved for his national side and national coach Carlos Queiroz will be pleased with his form in the build-up to the World Cup.
In the previous World Cup campaign, Queiroz gave Jahanbakhsh, then 20 years old, 49 minutes across the entire tournament. This year, though, he will hope to be a feature of every game.
In recent months, Carlos Queiroz has shifted Iran from the 4-2-3-1 formation he had favoured into a 4-3-3.
This is, in part, the result of having a number of very good wide forwards to choose from - not just Jahanbakhsh but Saman Ghoddos and Mehdi Taremi.
Shifting to the 4-3-3, then, will allow Jahanbakhsh to play further up the pitch with no shackles and test the full limits of the opposition’s defence.
Proficient with both feet, Jahanbakhsh can cause all kinds of problems for full backs who don't know whether to show him outside or encourage him to cut inside.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group B in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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