The Islamic Republic of Iran is a mainstay at the FIFA World Cup, with Qatar 2022 being the third consecutive tournament they take part in and the sixth overall in the team’s history.
However, their 2-6 loss against England in the opening match was hardly the start that coach Carlos Queiroz envisioned, especially as the Portuguese mastermind usually tends to send in defensive-minded teams to avoid huge losses.
While this was Iran’s second-worst loss ever, there was still some light at the end of the tunnel, as striker Mehdi Taremi became the first-ever Iranian player to score a brace at the FIFA World Cup, after converting a penalty late in the second half, the latest-ever goal in a group phase match in the world football flagship competition.
Taremi, 30, is playing for Portuguese giants FC Porto and is definitely the most talented player in this squad, also jumping to the sixth place overall in the all-time top goal scorer list for Iran, with 30 goals, a long way behind the nation’s hero, Ali Daei, who had 109 goals in 149 caps between 1993 and 2006.
But Taremi is a player of Daei’s making, with the legendary striker seeing something in Porto’s player that others did not. And Daei’s intervention really kickstarted Taremi’s career in football, quite late, when Iran’s top current striker was already 22 years old but had little experience in professional football.
Taremi’s story begins in 1992, when he was born in Bushehr, a port city with 160.000 inhabitants, which was the main trade centre of Iran in the past centuries. Born in a football family – his father, Alishah, was also a football player, featuring as a defender in a local amateur team – Taremi loved football from the first years of his life.
But having to earn his living, little Mehdi went with his father almost daily on a barge on the sea to catch fish and earn money. In the afternoons, he quickly changed the fishing net for the net behind the goal posts, scoring for fun. Meantime, he was dreaming about leading Iran at the FIFA World Cup.
“Whoever plays football is likely to hold this tournament in high regard. Simple as that. Most children love to watch and play football. They may end up in completely different careers or play another sport entirely, but their love for the game remains entrenched. This is true for everyone, even those who didn’t particularly love the game when they were kids. The World Cup is the biggest event in football and all the big names are on show. When you watch them in action, they fill you with awe and make you dream of one day playing on the biggest stage of them all,” said Taremi in an interview for the official FIFA website.
The first steps into professional football were quite awkward for the natural-born goal scorer. Taremi started playing football professionally with Bushehr’s Bargh FC in 2002. Four years later, he joined the local side Iranjavan, a local side that was recently promoted to the first league.
The big break came in 2014, when Taremi joined giants Persepolis, after topping the scoring charts in the Iranian top league. The striker was already writing his own name in the league, but a recommendation from Ali Daei never fails. During a four-year stint with the Tehran giants, he helped them to the semi-final of the AFC Champions League for the first time and twice won the top-scorer award in the Iranian Pro League.
After a year spent at Qatari side Al-Gharafa, Taremi was snatched up by Portuguese side Rio Ave, where the first-season tally of 18 goals made Porto sign him for only $5 million. He delivered time and time again for his new side, including scoring a backheel goal in a UEFA Champions League match against Chelsea, to become one of the most sought-after players in Europe.
“Iranians are a football-obsessed people, which is reflected in their support for the national team. They love most sports, but football holds a special place in their hearts. Football is a huge part of many Iranians’ lives and evokes so much emotion! It makes their week when we win and, on the flip side, ruins it if we’re beaten,” added Taremi in his FIFA interview.
While the Iranian fans are definitely broken after the 2-6 loss against England, Taremi gave them a glimmer of hope. Because if a humble man who spent a childhood on a fishing barge can shine on the biggest of stages, then everything is possible. Now, the Asian side will be thinking about their games against the USA and Wales. And, who knows, maybe Taremi can strike again?