Iran are somewhat of a wildcard as Gareth Southgate’s England set their sights on winning their World Cup opener on Monday.
Carlos Quieroz’s side are ranked 20th in the world and history proves they are no slouches, having narrowly missed out on qualifying from a group that included Spain, Portugal and Morocco in Russia 2018.
Their defensive solidity and doggedness with the ball, as well as stars like Mehdi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun, makes them potentially tricky customers in the eyes of the cautious. And their 29-year-old goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh has roots far closer to England than it may initially seem.
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First off, the Abedzadeh name holds tremendous weight within Iranian football folklore, particularly when it comes to World Cups. Amir’s father – Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh – was part of the iconic ‘98 Team Melli side that secured the nation’s first ever World Cup win, pulling off stunning saves in a dramatic 2-1 victory against the USA.
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Amir, who now plies his trade for Ponferradina in Spain’s Segunda Division, was always going to find it tough to measure up to the stature of his 6ft3in dad.
But the opportunity arose to leave Iranian giants Persepolis in favour of Brentford as a 15-year-old. He spent two months with the west London club, who were in the third-tier at the time.
Abedzadeh’s unsuccessful trial at Arsenal then saw him join rivals Tottenham’s academy in 2009. Following his release from Spurs that same year, Amir kept his skills sharp by playing semi-professional and amateur football with London Tigers and Persian FC London, respectively.
But amid his struggles to find a foothold in London, the youngster caught the eye in the capital's underground football scene.
One source exclusively told Daily Star Sport of how Abedzadeh threw himself into a seven-aside tournament at Ladbroke Grove’s Westway Sports Centre dubbed ‘ISL’ (Iranian Soccer League), where groups of local Iranians faced each other every Sunday.
There, he mesmerised by playing outfield, nutmegging average Joes and scoring worldies for fun.
The source said: “It didn’t even look like he was trying, he just looked miles ahead of everyone else. He was clearly the best outfield player and it wasn’t even close. Physically he was a menace as well.
“I don’t think he spent much time in goal, if any. He was very young but everyone was obviously taken aback, especially given who his dad was.
“Against us, he scored a hat-trick and that a free-kick. He drilled it in as if there wasn’t even a wall. He was the top-scorer and must’ve gotten over 20 goals throughout the tournament.”
After a spell with the Los Angeles Blues and an unsuccessful return to Iran, Amir made the career-altering decision to try his hand at Portuguese football. A season at Berreirense would put him on the right path as he earned a move to top-tier club Maritimo in 2017.
The shot-stopper was finally rewarded with a call-up to the national team, replicating his father's achievement by making his debut against Uzbekistan in 2018.
Amir was a staple in goal during Iran's near-flawless qualification for Qatar under Dragan Skokic. And while the returning Quieroz is understood to prefer 2018 World Cup veteran Alireza Beiranvand between the sticks, playing England will surely mean the world to Abedzadeh.
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