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Uri Levy

Alireza Jahanbakhsh: Iran's other lethal weapon

Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh became Holland's top scorer this season [Getty]

Date of publication: 14 May, 2018

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Iran is poised to kick off the World Cup with its European club stars shining brightly, writes Uri Levy.

This has been a landmark week for Asian and Middle Eastern football in Europe. While the whole world focused on the US pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, in Holland, another Iranian "lethal weapon" was making headlines.

On Sunday, Alireza Jahanbakhsh - the Iranian winger of AZ Alkmaar - scored a hat-trick in his team's 6-0 victory over FC Zwolle on the final matchday of the Dutch Eredivise season.

Aside the fact that it was Jahanbakhsh's second hat-trick in his past three matches, these three goals left him as the top goal-scorer in Holland.

The 24-year-old has scored 21 goals, made 12 assists, completed 78 key passes and 111 successful dribbles in 2017/2018 - in what has arguably been the best ever season for an Iranian footballer in Europe. Jahanbakhsh becomes the first Asian player to become top scorer in a major European league.

No other famous Iranian footballer - including Ali Daei, Mehdi Mahadivikia or Ali Karimi - had such a statistical feat in one European season, hinting that the young Jirandeh-born striker might be on his way to becoming one of the greatest Iranian footballers of all time.

 
Jahanbakhsh scored a hat trick against Zwolle [Getty]


Carlos Queiroz and his Iranian national team will now get a top forward in top form for the World Cup, and Jahanbakhsh has been linked with few notable clubs in Europe - with Italian side Napoli reported to be the favourite to add the young starlet to their squad.

Jahanbakhsh is part of a wider range of talented Iranian prospects that have made their mark in European teams in the past season.

Karim Ansarifard of Olympiakos in Greece notched up 17 goals this season; Heerenveen's Reza Ghoochannejhad scored 10 for the Dutch club; Kaveh Rezaei contributed 16 goals for Charleroi in Belgium; and Saman Ghoddos - who was a key figure in Ostersunds' Europa League run - finished with nine goals and five assists for the Swedish side.

 
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With the return of Masoud Shojaei to the Iran squad, even if not in an active role on the pitch, and Sardar Azmoun - who will play at his club town of Kazan against Spain - the Iranians have a few fantastic reasons to be optimistic for the forthcoming summer in Russia.

Scandalous Saudi

Fahad al-Mirdasi, a Saudi referee lined up to take part in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, has been removed from duty for Saturday's Saudi King's Cup.

He has been referred to investigating authorities - after it was alleged he contacted the president of one finalist requesting payments. British referee Mark Clattenburg, also the head of the Saudi officials' association, will be calling the King's Cup Final instead of Al-Miradsi, whose career is in tatters over with reports of recorded phone calls indicating cash payments, team numbers and games in which he was involved in illegal activity.

The story continues to develop, and analysts say more murky details of the management of Saudi football are likely to emerge in the coming weeks.

 

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here

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