2014 World Cup team preview: Iran

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Getting to know…Iran: This is the fourth World Cup for Iran (1978, 1998, 2006), who have yet to make it out of the Group Stage and have won only one of the nine matches they’ve played in the tournament (a 2-1 victory over USA in 1998). This side, managed by 61-year-old Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz, are a defensively staunch group that at times puts 10 players behind the ball to absorb pressure before trying to nab opponents on the counter. Of the 32 teams in the World Cup, the Persian Stars are pegged by many to finish at or towards the bottom but not if players like Jalal Hosseini, Javad Nekounam, Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejhad have anything to say about it.

Record in qualifying: Qualified first in Group A of Asian Football Confederation, beating out South Korea for the top spot. In eight matches, Iran took 16 points, scoring eight goals and conceding only two.

What group are they in?: Group F with Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Nigeria

Game schedule:

16 June, 16:00, Curitiba – Iran vs. Nigeria
21 June, 13:00, Belo Horizonte – Argentina vs. Iran
25 June, 13:00, Salvador – Bosnia & Herzegovina vs. Iran

source: APStar player: Javad Nekounam

The 33-year-old defensive midfielder plays his club ball at Al-Kuwait SC and brings a wealth of international experience (140 caps) to the side. After a strong performance in the 2006 World Cup, Nekounam was in-demand throughout Europe and signed with La Liga outfit Osasuna where he would spend six seasons registering 149 appearances and 24 goals. Since then the powerful destroyer enjoyed a two year spell at Esteghlal before transferring to Kuwait this past January. A possession-based player who relies on simple short passes and combination play to charge forward, Nekounam captained Iran through World Cup qualifying by scoring four times, including the winner against South Korea to secure the top spot in AFC.

Manager: Carlos Queiroz

Perhaps best known as Sir Alex Ferguson’s trusted assistant at Manchester United, Queiroz has managed Iran since 2011. He became coach of the Persian Stars after spending two years as boss of Portugal, with whom he brought to the Round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup. Queiroz is known for his defensive, counter-attacking system, and is a well-traveled manager having coached a variety of international and club sides including Sporting Lisbon, South Africa, New York MetroStars, Nagoya Grampus Eight and Real Madrid, among others.

Secret weapon: Ashkan Dejagah

Premier League fans will be familiar with Fulham’s rampaging winger (above, right), who left his mark on numerous matches this season by scoring a number of impressive goals. Powerful, pacy and possessing a vicious shot, Dejagah is a game-changer in the truest sense of the word. With Iran’s formation and scheme, expect Dejagah to occupy the right wing where his teammates will look to spring him on the counter-attack. Look for Dejagah to link up with Ghoochannejhad as the side’s lone striker or to simply over-power opponents on his own and have a go. Don’t be surprised if the World Cup serves as a stage for the 27-year-old to be snapped up by a top-tier club as Fulham settle for life in the Championship.

Prediction: A point would be an achievement. Getting out of the Group Stage, a miracle. At best Iran could snag a 0-0 draw with Nigeria or Bosnia & Herzegovina but look for Argentina to make the Persian Stars their whipping boys.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET