By Jason Gordon After initially being brought to the country by the British in the early twentieth century, soccer is the most popular sport in Iran. The first form of organized soccer began in 1945 when the IranianFootball Federation became a member of the world's largest International Football Association known as FIFA. Since then the sport has grown across the country with many professional leagues like the Iran Premier League developing along with youth teams. Iran is currently ranked as the 29th best football team in the world, one behind the United States, and ahead of notable countries such as the Ivory Coast, Greece, and Ghana. The success of the game in Iran has meant that although the country is not often synonymous with developing good soccer talent, it has produced some excellent soccer players. Here are the best Iranian soccer players of all-time. 1. Ali Daei:
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Often referred to as the "Maradona of Asia" and one of the best Asian soccer players of all time, the world's all-time leading international goal scorer. Ali Daei is one of the best Iranian Soccer Players of all time. Beginning his career by struggling to find playing time in various small clubs in Iran, Daei found his big break after playing for Persepolis F.C, a highly-regarded club in the countries Persian Gulf Pro League. Daei's great play in Persepolis led to his departure to Europe with a contract signing for Arminia Bielefeld a German club in the Bundesliga league. Following a decent season with Arminia, Daei signed a three-year deal with Bayern Munich. However, his time with the team did not last long due to little playing time from national team duties and a lot of great players deserving of minutes too. This lack of playing time resulted in Daie transferring to Hertha BSC where he spent three successful years to end his European career. Despite having one of the most successful club careers for an Iranian soccer player, Ali Daei's real talent shined playing for the national team. After playing in only 149 International games, the Iranian holds the world record for the most goals scored in International play with 109. Even after his playing career was over Daei spent a year coaching the national team leading Iran to a 16-6-3 record. However, Daei ended up being sacked in a propaganda based move by the nation's president following a home loss. In conclusion, Daei's notable success on the international level combined with a great career playing for different club's makes him one of the best Iranian soccer players of all-time. 2. Ali Karimi:
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Following in the footsteps of his friend, Ali Daei, Ali Karimi is one of the best Iranian players of all-time. Beginning his professional career winning two championships with his national club Persepolis FC, the 2004 Asian Player of the year started his club career signing a one-year contract with Bayern Munich in 2005. Karimi experienced a successful year with the club scoring three goals in his limited play time as a midfielder. His career with the German club ended in 2007 where he rejected a new contract and left to play a season in the Qatari League before returning home to play with Persepolis. Just like Ali Daei, Ali Karimi was very successful playing for the Iranian national team. In just 127 appearances Karimi scored 38 goals helping his team throughout various tournaments like the 2004 Asian Cup where he scored five goals and helped Iran make the semi finals. His excellent performances earned him the 2004 Asian Player of the year award and highlighted why he is one of the best Iranian players to play in the pitch. 3. Mehdi Mahdavikia:
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Another Iranian soccer player known for his talent, Mehdi Mahdavikia began his professional career playing for Persepolis. His early success in the Persian Gulf Pro League drew interest from others and allowed the right midfielder sign a contract abroad with Hamburger SV in the Bundesliga league. Scoring 26 goals in 208 games, Mahdavikia earned the Hamburg Player of the year honor in 2003 and was recorded the most assists per goal in the league. Just like some of the other great Iranian soccer players in history, Mahdavikia had a great international career. After earning the Asian Footballer of the year award twice in his career, Mahdavikia played a huge role for the Iranian national team due to his exceptional talent in the midfield. Even after being forced to retire in 2010 due to a sign of protest over the 2009 Iranian election, Mahdavikia has been one of the best Iranian soccer players in history.