Coming off a very creditable Asian Cup 1988 performance, played out in Doha, Qatar, in December, where Iran had finished as bronze medal winners, after triumphing in the final play-off game for third place against China on penalties, Iran, were now looking to progress past the first phase of the Asian section of the Italia ’90 World Cup qualification. Affectionately known as ‘Team Melli’ (where ‘melli’ in Persian equals ‘national’), they were determined to position themselves on the international football map again after years out in the doldrums thanks to the Iran-Iraq conflict. During that time, though, they had been able to compete in Asian Cup and Asian Games matches, but were ruled out for fixtures under the FIFA banner.
Manager coming into 1989 was Parviz Dehdari, who was 53 at the time. He had played for Team Melli for ten years in the 50s and 60s. He was into his second stint as national team manager, although his first had started back in ’71, and lasted only about a year. Prior to taking charge again of the country’s flagship in 1986, Dehdari had been managing at Tehran club Naft for a decade. Dehdari had his fair share of critics coming into the World Cup qualification, and reportedly, fans had even thrown snowballs at him during the 2-2 friendly draw at home to Japan in their final friendly before the start of the qualification. He had been told off by the media for his weak team selections during the Asian Cup, despite that third place finish.
The severe criticism which Dehdari had come under made him go on a sick leave, something which meant that Reza Vatankhah, a 42 year old, would come in and act as interim coach for the two away trips at the start of the qualification, to Thailand and Bangladesh. While Vatankhah would ultimately oversee two wins, the Iranian FA still saw fit to finally dismiss Dehdari before their third qualifier, the home fixture against Bangladesh, would take place. They brought in a new head coach in the shape of 41 year old Mehdi Monajati, another former player at international level. He would at least remain in the hotseat until the end of the qualification.
Asian Championships group stage:
02.12.88: Qatar 2-0 (Bavi, Pious)
04.12.88: Japan 0-0
08.12.88: United Arab Emirates 1-0 (Pious)
11.12.88: South Korea 0-3
Asian Championships semi-final:
15.12.88: Saudi Arabia 0-1
Asian Championships third place play-off:
17.12.88: China 0-0. 3-0 on penalties
20.01.89: Japan (h) 2-2 (Pious, own goal)
* This was Iran’s first Azadi Stadium fixture in three years