FIFA World Cup countdown: Top 10 Iranian footballers of all time

As part of the 50-day countdown to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Sports Mole takes a look at the top 10 players in the history of Iran.

Despite being relative minnows at the World Cup, Iran's time on the biggest stage of football has been sprinkled with some memorable moments.

From their 1-1 draw against Scotland in their very first outing at the finals to their highly-significant 2-1 victory over USA in a politically-charged match 20 years later, Iran have made ripples at the tournament.

They are yet to get further than the group stages, however, and will be desperate to improve that record at their fourth World Cup this summer in Brazil.

Here, to continue our countdown to the 2014 tournament, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Iran.

10. Javad Nekounam (2000-present, 136 caps, 37 goals)

Javad Nekounam in action for Iran on August 17, 2005.© Getty Images

The man captaining Iran into this summer's World Cup will be long-serving midfielder Javad Nekounam, who has already amassed a mammoth 136 caps in a 14-year international career. Few players were more instrumental in getting the team to the finals either, with Nekounam topping the goalscoring charts in Iran's qualifying campaign.

The 33-year-old has experience at the World Cup having featured in two of Team Melli's group games at the 2006 edition, only missing the final match against Angola through suspension. Elsewhere on the international scene, he has helped Iran to success in the 2003 AFC-OFC Challenge Cup, the 2002 Asian Games and the 2004 West Asian Football Federation Championship.

A large chunk of his career was spent in La Liga with Osasuna, where he played more than 150 matches during a six-year stint. He moved back to Iran in 2012 and has continued to impress, being named runner-up in the Asian Footballer of the Year voting last year.

9. Hasan Roshan (1974-80, 48 caps, 13 goals)

Despite having a relatively short international career compared to many of the names on this list, Hasan Roshan made a lasting impression for Iran and is still fondly remembered in his home country.

Breaking into the Taj Tehran - now known as Esteghlal Tehran - side at the age of just 17, Roshan quickly established himself as one of the team's most important players, helping them to the Iranian league title in 1975 and the Hazfi Cup in 1977.

His greatest successes came on the international stage, however, as Iran picked up the Asian Games in 1974 and the Asian Cup two years later. He was a key figure in helping the team qualify for their first ever World Cup in 1978, but his time at the tournament itself was limited due to injury.

8. Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh (1987-98, 79 caps, no goals)

One of the most popular players in Iran's recent history, Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh endeared himself to supporters for his performances during the 1998 World Cup. While Team Melli failed to get past the group stages in France, Abedzadeh's displays in goal ensured that they weren't embarrassed in just their second appearance at the finals.

The eccentric keeper, dubbed 'The Eagle of Asia' for his performances between the sticks, captained the team for the final two years of his international career, wearing the armband 38 times in all for Team Melli.

He helped the national side to two Asian Games titles in addition to their World Cup appearance, while at club level he won six Iranian Football League titles, the Hazfi Cup and the Asian Club Championship.

7. Nasser Hejazi (1968-80, 62 caps, no goals)

Abedzadeh's only rival for the title of greatest goalkeeper in Iran's history is Nasser Hejazi, who also came to widespread attention with his performances in a World Cup. Following the 1978 tournament in Argentina, Hejazi received an offer from Manchester United and trained with the club for a month, only for the Iranian Revolution to scupper his plans of a longer stay.

Even before his World Cup appearances, Hejazi had enjoyed success with Iran having helped them to two Asian Cups and an Asian Games title in the space of four years. He was eventually forced to retire from international football aged just 29 due to a policy that was implemented in the country banning athletes over the age of 27 from competing for the national team.

At club level he won the Asian Club Championship in 1970 and the Iranian Football League five years later. The International Football Federation of History and Statistics also named him the second-best Asian goalkeeper of the 20th century.

6. Karim Bagheri (1993-2010, 87 caps, 50 goals)

Even the most ardent Charlton Athletic fan would be forgiven for not remembering Karim Bagheri, but the midfielder joined the Addicks for £400,000 in 2000 having impressed manager Alan Curbishley. However, a mixture of injuries, international call-ups and off-the-field matters contributed to him only playing 15 minutes for the club.

Such an unsuccessful stint does not do the player justice. His goalscoring record from midfield was phenomenal, and he was capable of finding the net by any means. His most notable attribute was a thunderous long-range strike, but he was also dangerous in the air and had composure when through on goal.

He once scored seven in a single international game and six in another, while he also sparked the comeback that helped Iran reach the 1998 World Cup at the expense of Australia. The International Football Federation of History and Statistics named him the 10th-best Asian player of the 20th century.

5. Khodadad Azizi (1992-2006, 47 caps, 11 goals)

Khodadad Azizi in action for Iran against Germany at the World cup on June 25, 1998.© Getty Images

While Bagheri sparked the comeback against Australia in 1998, it was Khodadad Azizi who scored the equalising goal that sent Iran to the World Cup. As such, the diminutive striker will always have a place in the hearts of Iranian fans, but he was far more than just a one-goal wonder.

In addition to featuring in the World Cup in France, Azizi played for Iran at the 1996 and 2000 Asian Cups. It was in the first of those tournaments that he had the greatest impact, being named the Most Valuable Player despite Iran only finishing third.

His performances in that competition led to him being named Asian Player of the Year in 1996 and prompted a move to Bundesliga side FC Koln, where he spent three years. The International Football Federation of History and Statistics named him the eighth-best Asian player of the 20th century.

4. Ali Parvin (1970-80, 76 caps, eight goals)

One of the biggest idols in the history of Iranian club Persepolis, Ali Parvin established himself as a key member of the Iran side that broke new ground by qualifying for the 1978 World Cup.

At club level, the midfielder spent 18 years as a player with Persepolis before managing them for a further 17 years and even acting as the team's president. During his playing days he amassed four Iranian Football League titles and three Hazfi Cups, as well as winning the Tehran provincial league five times with two different clubs.

There was more silverware on the international stage as Parvin helped Team Melli to three major titles in the space of four years. Success in the 1974 Asian Games was sandwiched between Asian Cup triumphs two years either side. He was named as the 14th-best Asian player of the 20th century by the International Football Federation of History and Statistics.

3. Mehdi Mahdavikia (1996-2009, 111 caps, 13 goals)

While Iran exited the 1998 World Cup at the first hurdle, their performance was generally deemed a success as they picked up their first win at the finals and gave a good account of themselves in the other two games. Mehdi Mahdavikia was widely regarded as their best performer in those matches, so much so that he was nominated for the All-Star Team of the Tournament.

He also scored the winning goal in the famous victory over USA and was involved again in 2006 when Team Melli made it to the World Cup for just the third time in their history. By that stage he was well known in Germany having become a key part of Hamburger SV's defence.

His performances for the Bundesliga outfit led to him being named their Player of the Year twice, and he was paid an even greater compliment when he was included in the club's team of the century. He was named the Asian Young Footballer of the Year in 1997 before winning the senior award six years later having helped Iran to the AFC-OFC Challenge Cup in 2003.

2. Ali Karimi (1998-2013, 127 caps, 38 goals)

Midfielder Ali Karimi in action for Iran on July 02, 2007.© Getty Images

Arguably the most skilful player Iran has ever produced, Ali Karimi's ball control and mazy dribbling led to him being dubbed the 'Asian Maradona' by fans. His tally of 127 caps makes him the third-highest appearance maker in the national team's history, behind only Javad Nekounam and Ali Daei.

Having made his first appearance for Iran shortly after their exit from the 1998 World Cup, Karimi was a key member of the squad eight years later as they qualified for the 2006 edition in Germany. He could add a second World Cup to his resume this summer should he accept Carlos Quieroz's offer to come out of retirement for the tournament in Brazil.

At club level, he joined German giants Bayern Munich in 2005 and won a league and cup double with the club in his first season. He later won another German Cup with Schalke, although his spell in Gelsenkirchen was short-lived. Individually, he was named the Asian Footballer of the Year in 2004 and came second in the voting in 2012 at the age of 34.

1. Ali Daei (1993-2006, 149 caps, 109 goals)

Iran striker Ali Daei is held aloft by supporters on June 08, 2005.© Getty Images

While Karimi was more technically gifted than Ali Daei, the clinical striker's record at international level simply cannot be ignored. He boasts a unique place in history as the top scorer in international football, overtaking the great Ferenc Puskas in 2003 before going on to become the first player to break into three figures.

His tally of 149 appearances unsurprisingly makes him the most capped player in Iran's history and puts him 14th in the all-time list of international appearance-makers from any country. He featured in both the 1998 and 2006 World Cups, although was unable to find the back of the net at either tournament.

At club level, he spent a notable one-year stint at Bayern Munich having been earmarked by club legend Franz Beckenbauer as a "world-class striker". His short spell in Germany saw him pick up a league and cup double, while at the end of his time with Bayern he was named the Asian Footballer of the Year.

Iran will face Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria in the group stages of this summer's World Cup, and you can follow every match live with Sports Mole.

Continuing our 50-day countdown to the tournament, we will be looking at the greatest players in the history of Italy tomorrow. You can also see all of the World Cup top 10 lists so far by clicking here.

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Who is the greatest Iranian footballer of all time?

Ali Daei
Ali Karimi
Mehdi Mahdavikia
Ali Parvin
Khodadad Azizi
Karim Bagheri
Nasser Hejazi
Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh
Hasan Roshan
Javad Nekounam
Ali Daei
Ali Karimi
Mehdi Mahdavikia
Ali Parvin
Khodadad Azizi
Karim Bagheri
Nasser Hejazi
Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh
Hasan Roshan
Javad Nekounam
Johan Cruyff scores for Holland against Argentina on June 26, 1974.
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