Team Melli has been handsomely rewarded for being the first team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup many times over: Being drawn into Group B alongside Spain, Portugal, and Morocco - a veritable the Group of Death Players not being paid for reaching the World Cup due to sanctions in consecutive tournaments (a great read overall on Queiroz) Having Nike pull their cleat sponsorshop less than 100 hours prior to their first match, citing sanctions that went into effect last month Nevertheless, the squad will buy some off-the-rack Adidas cleats and stand in buckets of warm water to mold them to their feet ahead of the first match on Friday, 11 AM EST in St. Petersburg against the most talented team from Africa: Morocco. With Ashkan Dejagah struggling for fitness - I mean who could have guessed, with all of one match at Nottingham Forest under his belt in 2018 - it is looking like the starting lineup will be a 4-3-3 GK: Alireza Beiranvand - Persepolis (Piece on his ascent to Team Melli in The Guardian) RB: Ramin Rezaeian - Oostende CB: Rouzbeh Cheshmi - Esteghlal CB: Morteza Pouraliganji - Al-Sadd LB: Milad Mohammadi - Akhmat Grozny CDM: Omid Ebrahimi - Esteghlal CDM: Ehsan Hajsafi - Olympiacos CM: Masoud Shojaei - AEK Athens RW: Alireza Jahanbakhsh - AZ Alkmaar ST: Sardar Azmoun - Rubin Kazan LW: Mehdi Taremi - Al-Gharafa Some thoughts on the lineup: Queiroz seems to love Cheshmi at CB despite some suspect performances in recent qualifiers and friendlies. If one of the CBs doesn't make that lineup, the replacement would be Peiman Montazeri (Esteghlal) Alternative lineup would potentially be 4-1-4-1 with Ebrahimi at CDM and Ansarifard in midfield behind Azmoun If Ashkan can make the bench, expect him to spell Masoud later in the match It's a tossup at LW between Taremi and Saman Ghoddos, capped this past qualifying season for Iran over his native Sweden. Ghoddos may get the nod as a more natural winger Stronger bench than usual for Iran, with quality options off the bench including Karim Ansarifard, Saeid Ezatolahi, and Mehdi Torabi in midfield Reza Ghoochannejhad is somehow 30 already, and has carved out a nice niche for himself in the Netherlands with SC Heerenveen, but hasn't brought it at the national team level recently Referee for match day 1 will be one of the few decent refs in FIFA's employ, Cuneyt Cakir. I will be looking for a chelo kabobi in San Francisco that's open at 8 AM to watch the likely 2-0 defeat.