The only man to have scored a century of international goals, Ali Daei’s record eclipses even the greatest players to have played the game making him the most prolific goalscorer ever.
By the time he hung up his boots in 2007, Daei had notched an amazing 109 goals in 149 games, a goals-per-game ratio of 0.73 on the international scene. At club level the Iranian international tore up the leagues in the Middle East before a mildly successful tour of Germany, featuring a year at Bayern Munich, however it is his international record which continues to be remembered.
In both 1996 (22 goals in 18 games) and 2000 (20 goals in 19 games) he scored more goals than games he appeared in. Despite never scoring a goal at a World Cup, with him leading the line when Iran qualified in 1998 and 2006, Daei became the world’s leading international goalscorer when broke Puskas’ international record (84 goals) with a strike against Lebanon in 2003. In 2004 he celebrated passing into three figures and footballing history by putting four past Laos.
Born in Ardabil, Iran in 1969, Daei played for nearly twenty years with 12 different clubs including Bayern Munich after beginning his career with hometown club Esteghlal Ardabil. The striker’s club career was successful in itself but it must be noted that he missed out of a large amount of club football due to international commitments. Especially due to the fact that nations from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) experience a much longer qualification route to major tournaments, particularly the holy grail that is the World Cup.
After playing for a couple of minor league teams, Taxirani and Bank Tejarat, in 1994 Daei joined one of country’s premier squads, Persepolis. Following his impressive performance in Asian Cup in 1996 Daei signed a contract with and his fellow Iranian national team-mate Karim Bagger at Arminia Bielefeld in Germany.
After signing for Bayern Munich a year later Daei became the first Asian player to feature in a UEFA Champions League match. Yet at Bayern he found himself low in the pecking order. This, coupled with the Iranian national team’s scheduling, meant Daei found very little playing time. Before the end of his three-year contract Daei moved to Hertha BSC, not before winning the Bundesliga with Die Roten in 1999.
In the German capital the Iran international scored his first and second goal in the UEFA Champions League in 1999 during a group stage match against Chelsea. The brace earned him worldwide recognition but was not a hugely important player to Hertha. By 2002 Daei returned to the Middle East on a free transfer aged 34-years-old will Al-Shabab.
While continuing to regularly sore goals into his 30s the forward saw out he rest of his career in Iran during seasons spent back at Peresopolis, Saba Battery and Saipa. Despite criticism and calls for his retirement an aging Daei played at the 2006 World Cup.
Daei’s contribution to Iranian football has been immense. Most memorably he provided the assist for Khodadad Azizi against Australia in the 1998 World Cup Qualifiers to see Iran through to the Tournament. At the games, Daei once more proved instrumental in securing Iran’s historic victory against the USA with a delicious assist to Mehdi Mahdavikia to score the winning goal.
All Time International Goalscorers Ranked
1. Ali Daei, Iran, 109 goals in 149 caps
2. Ferenc Puskas, Hungary and Spain, 80 goals in 89 caps
3. Kunishige Kamamoto, Japan 80 in 84 caps
4. Hussein Saeed, Iraq, 78 in 137
5. Pelé, Brazil 77 in 92
6= Sándor Kocsi, Hungary 75 in 68
6= Bashar Abdullah, Kuwait 75 in 133
8= Majed Abdullah, Saudi Arabia, 71 in 116
8= Miroslav Klose, Germany 71 in 137
10= Stern John, Trinidad and Tobago, 70 in 115
10= Kiatisuk Senamuang, Thailand, 70 in 131