Who is Ali Daei?

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Etsuo Hara / Contributor

Ali Daei’s career hasn’t been recognized by many in the western hemisphere but the former Iran international has held one of the most impressive records in football history for some time.

Cristiano Ronaldo is now on the brink of breaking the long-standing goals record held by Daei, with both players level on 109 goals throughout their storied careers.

Between Ronaldo’s global superstardom and Daei playing for a country that hasn’t historically had a lot of international success, the Iranian’s story has fallen by the wayside and that’s why it feels important to tell it.

Daei spent the majority of his career competing in the Middle East, but many aren’t aware of his club endeavors with some of Europe’s biggest teams.

He played from 1997 to 2002 in Germany, most notably with stops at Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin, and even though Daei never met the expectations at the club level that he set internationally it was clear that he would go on to have a lengthy and successful career.

In the 1999 UEFA Champions League, Daei netted a brace against Chelsea in the competition’s group stage before helping Hertha Berlin earn a draw against AC Milan.

Internationally was where Daei made his mark though, playing at the 1998 and 2006 World Cups. Although Iran has never advanced past the group stage, the sheer enjoyment of qualifying for the tournament was significant for the country.

Daei’s importance to the Iranian team was never in doubt, so the fact that he reached the height of the international goal scoring record isn’t surprising. However, his story of how he overtook the previous record holder is quite interesting.

Ferenc Puskas, one of Hungary’s most notable players in the country’s history, held the all-time goal scoring record for years before Daei went on to break it not just once, but twice.

During a match against North Korea in 2003 Daei was on the brink of passing Puskas’ record. Daei was awarded a penalty kick that he ultimately scored to put him into sole possession of first all-time, however, an Iranian fan threw a flare onto that pitch that hit a North Korea player.

In protest, North Korea refused to finish the match and accepted a 3-0 defeat after forfeiting. With the cancellation of the match though, Daei’s goal was wiped away and therefore he had to do it all over again the following week.

Daei would go on to break Puskas’ record for a second time against Lebanon, solidifying himself at the top of the list until Ronaldo eventually moved into a tie at the top of the list. 

Of Daei’s 109 international goals, 36 of them came during World Cup qualifying and Daei’s role was significant for Iran during the attempts to reach the world’s biggest tournament.

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