Hossein Abdi’s side routed New Caledonia 5-0 last time out to finish third in Group C – equal on six points with the two previous champions of the competition in England and Brazil.
Morocco, meanwhile, will step onto the pitch at the Gelora Bung Tomo Stadium on the back of a top-spot finish in Group A, thanks to victories over Panama (2-0) and Indonesia (3-1) either side of a 2-0 defeat against Ecuador.
Abdi’s boys stole all the headlines when they scored three in the space of 19 minutes to overcome a two-goal deficit at halftime against Brazil and beat the defending champion and four-time winner 3-2 in what will go down as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.
The Iranian young guns then thought they had done enough for a point against England, only to be left heartbroken after Manchester City academy player Joel Ndala bagged a 90th-minute winner to complete a 2-1 comeback victory for the 2017 champion.
A victory today will see Abdi’s side match an all-time best result for the country in the under-17 World Cup – a last-eight finish six years ago in India – though the Iranian head coach insists his team had set sights on going all the way in Indonesia long before heading to the competition.
“When we started working together a year and a half ago, I came up with a roadmap for the players, in which the ultimate goal was to win the world title,” Abdi said in an interview with the Iranian Football Federation website.
“You need to set yourself ambitious targets and give it all your best shot. That’s how you would feel good about your efforts at the end,” added the Iranian.
When Iran was drawn against England and Brazil, few in the country fancied Abdi’s team to progress beyond the group stage, but the head coach says he always appreciated the opportunity to play against the football heavyweights.
“Everyone thought we would concede lots of goals against Brazil and England, but I always believed the experience of playing against strong opponents would help us grow as a team. The World Cup is where you get the chance to compete with the best,” Abdi added.
“We played a decent football against Brazil, even when we conceded twice in the first half, and we were also brilliant in both halves against England.”
A third-place finish in the group turned out to be a devil in disguise for Abdi and his boys as it saw Iran find its way into a rather easier half of the knockout draw.
The winner of today’s game will face either Mail or Mexico – runners-up in their respective groups – on Saturday for a place in the semifinals.
“Every team at the World Cup has earned the right to be here. Football has developed throughout the world and no side is guaranteed the victory against any opponent prior to the game,” Abdi said.
“I don’t really care who we play in the tournament and I mean it. You saw how we played against the two world champions. When I went to congratulate Japanese head coach [Yoshiro Moriyama] for their victory over Senegal, he told me: ‘I showed the film of your match against Brazil to my players and told them if Iran can beat Brazil, so can you.’ Our results have earned reputation for the Asian football.”
Abdi is best remembered for being an aggressive, hard-working player in the middle of the park during his Persepolis career in the 90s, and he believes that is the kind of attitude his team needs to succeed in Indonesia.
“The players and I are just duty bound to fight till the last breath and hope for the best to happen. With that mentality, it wouldn’t really matter if you win or lose a game,” said the Iranian coach.