Iran take on Bahrain at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on January 11 at 8pm AEDST in the second match of group C.
The last time the two Middle Eastern teams met was during qualification for the 2014 World Cup. Bahrain salvaged a 1-1 draw in Iran but got thrashed 6-0 on home soil.
Iran, the out and out favourites of group C, take on arguably the weakest team of the group in this encounter.
Bahrain had an extremely successful qualifying campaign but have endured a calamitous time since, failing to score a goal in the 2014 Gulf Cup which ultimately resulted in the sacking of their coach Adnan Hamad.
Newly assigned mentor Marjan Eid has a huge job on his hands and rallying a disheartened side for a clash with the strongest team in the group may prove too much. Bahrain’s performance in this game could make or break their tournament.
Iran also suffered a setback before the game with their coach, Carlos Querioz, making a surprising public admission that his team is weaker now than they were going into last year’s World Cup.
Querioz complained of a halted preparation due to what he labelled “financial setbacks”. As a result Team Melli has played just two games since their Brazil campaign ended in June.
But not everything is doom and gloom and Iran are still hot favourites. Team Melli’s strength is their strong attacking trio, made up of European players in solid international form. They also have a 12th man found, not in the dugout, but in the stands. Of all the visiting teams coming to the Asian Cup the most tickets have been sold to the Iranians. This huge support, coupled with their attacking flair, will make Bahrain’s task on Sunday night close to impossible.
Expect Bahrain to employ a pragmatic approach in the game, looking to hit on the counter. Interestingly enough, Iran is infamous for their volatile defensive line – sometimes superb, other times shambolic. Depending on what version of Iran’s defence turns up, this fixture could define Bahrain’s night as a disaster or an unprecedented success.
The big issue
Iran is a mercurial team – you don't know what you’re going to get. They could put on an attacking masterclass one game and be in a defensive shambles the next. That being said, Bahrain is in a weakened state and the strength of the Iranians, along with their experience and support, should prove too much.
If Iranian captain and midfield maestro Javad Nekounam can establish his presence in midfield, then the brilliant Iranian strike force will be allowed to go to work. Reza Ghoochannejad was joint top scorer in qualifying and will be looking to carry his hot form into the Asian Cup. Keep an eye out for Serdar Azmoun, an exciting young Rubin Kazan forward who has already scored two goals for the national team at only 20 years of age.
Iran 3 – 1 Bahraincomments