Iran and UAE made emphatic statements on the opening matchday of Group C, but arguably it was the Team Melli supporters which stole the show with their loud support at Melbourne's Rectangular Stadium. FFT's Michael Petkovic took a look at his five key learnings from the day's action.
1. UAE make a stand
The fixture between UAE and Qatar was expected to be a tight affair with both teams in similar states and bearing similar aspirations. What instead ensued was a clear gulf in class with the Emiratis clearly coming out the stronger.
Omar Abdulrahman established himself as a star player at the tournament and with some active attacking players, such as Ali Mabkhout, showing great movement around him, they will be a tricky proposition for any defence in the tournament.
Coming into the opening matches of Group C the general consensus was that Iran would be easy group winners and UAE would have a tough fight on their hands finishing in second against two teams of comparable status.
UAE have exceeded expectations thus far and have Iran looking over their shoulders at a potential competitor for top spot. UAE play Bahrain next, and if they can get a win, it sets up a mouth-watering final fixture against Team Melli which may determine who wins the coveted top spot.
2. Practice makes perfect
Iran has only played two games since last year’s World Cup ended due to issues with the Iranian FA. The lack of match practice was severely evident in the first half of their match against Bahrain, where their class was apparent but something was clearly lacking.
Their build-up play was smooth and effective but a lack of creativity in the final third had them struggling to get the ball in the box to create any dangerous opportunities.
More matches in the lead up to the tournament would have given Iran the opportunity to shake off the cob webs and get familiar with each other.
The second half saw much more fluency from Team Melli; they were combining well and becoming more familiar with each other’s movement. They will need to get accustomed to each other quickly, especially since UAE are looking like strong competitors for top spot.
The likes of South Korea, Japan and Australia will be hitting their best form at just the right time, but a lack of preparation could prove lethal for Iran who might find their stride too late in the tournament.
3. Home away from home
AAMI Park was painted white by 17,000 cheering Iranian fans in their win against Bahrain.
Iran will have tremendous support in every match of the Asian Cup and it will only strengthen their chances of going far in a tournament with many contenders for the ultimate prize.
The loud and boisterous Iranian crowd were heard non-stop throughout the 90 minutes as they guided their team to an important opening win and a clean sheet. The significance of the support and the win was seen in the player’s celebrations and their reaction to the victory.
Troubles in Iran have created a tight knit group of players who have a close relationship to their fervent fans. This bodes well for an Iranian team who will need to gel quickly in order to win their first Asian Cup in almost four decades.
4. Qatar in trouble
Qatar looked competitive at times but a lack of attacking flair and some horrendous defending meant they paid the price against a UAE team who put on a strong showing.
They have a tough game next against Iran and after a disappointing showing they will find it extremely hard to get a result and stay in the tournament.
Their lack of a quality striker was again made clearly evident when their only goal came from a familiar source; Khalfan Ibrahim is Qatar’s midfield maestro and a steady source of goals for the team.
If they have any hope of salvaging their tournament it is essential they find a varied source of goals, and it is vital it is one of their forwards.
The frontline is not their only concern, the defending of Qatar during all the goals was worthy of a head slap. The defensive problems are so deep rooted that it is unlikely they will be able to fix it in the short turn around between matches, unless they go with completely new personnel at the back.
All this spells failure for Qatar who will need a sensational turn around to progress to the next round.
5. The essence of football
The first day of Group C saw seven goals and two exciting, attacking games. All teams left everything on the park and employed thrilling, attacking football which proved a treat for the thousands of fans that flocked to the games.
It was a pleasure to see in an age where football games are becoming more and more structured, slow and pragmatic. Watching Group C was like jumping in a time machine and transporting back to the 70s where football games were open, free flowing and full of chances.
The sole objective of teams was scoring goals and putting on a show for the people, which is in essence what football is all about.
The tournament is for the fans, who have exceeded expectations thus far. Games like those we saw on day one of Group C will keep them coming back for more throughout the tournament. It sets the stage for an exciting 2015 Asian Cup and long may it continue.