Iran legend Mahdavikia to Gol Bezan: 1998 side could have escaped group stage

Iran’s 1998 FIFA World Cup side had the talent to reach the knockout stage of the 1998 FIFA World Cup, retired national team attacker Mehdi Mahdavikia told the Gol Bezan Podcast in an exclusive interview.

With over a decade in the Bundesliga including over 200 appearances for Hamburger to his credit, the 40-year-old is best-remembered by international football fans for his dramatic game-winner over the United States in Team Melli’s second group stage match in France.

“There are certain events in my life that I will never forget, and [the goal] is definitely one of those events,” Mahdavikia told Gol Bezan director Pasha Hajian. “Scoring such an important goal [when I was that young] would go down in the history books of Iranian football at the World Cup, especially considering all the drama that surrounded that specific fixture.”

Asked how his 1998 side would stack up against the Iran squad currently in preparations for Russia, Mahdavikia was reluctant to choose favorites.

“The 1998 squad was a very complete team with some big stars. It was one of the best generations in our history, and we had some of Iran’s best players in each position,” he reflected. “We had some of Iran’s greatest ever forwards in Ali Daei and Khodadad Azizi. There were also players such as Karim Bagheri, and Hamid Estili; it really was a complete team.”

“If we had believed in ourselves a bit more, perhaps we could have even advanced from the group,” he added, noting Iran’s narrow losses against Yugoslavia as well as eventual quarterfinalists Germany. The only difference I see in the current squad and the 1998 one is the European experience.”

Mahdavikia, who serves as an assistant coach at Hamburger as well as the co-founder of Tehran-based youth academy KIA FC, admitted he sees a challenging road ahead for Carlos Queiroz’s men in Group B where they have been matched with Portugal, Spain, and Morocco.

“Our first game […] will determine our fate in this group,” he said. “If we can defeat Morocco, it will open a window of hope for us to advance. But it is no doubt a tough task. If we can manage to not concede any goals [against Portugal and Spain], the odds will be in our favor.”

Listen to the full interview with Mahdavikia on Gol Bezan: