Asian Cup Preview: Iran v Bahrain

Iran are favourites to get their Asian Cup campaign off to the perfect start when they take on Bahrain in Melbourne on Sunday.

Asia's highest-ranked side have played just twice since bowing out in the group stages of the World Cup last year, beating South Korea 1-0 last November before edging Iraq by the same scoreline on Sunday.  

Despite their lack of preparation, Iran will be confident of holding off Qatar, UAE and the Bahrainis to top Group C.

Iran's first opponents - Bahrain - are coming off the back of a disappointing Gulf Cup campaign where they failed to win a game, knocked out in the group stage with no goals to their name.

Despite their favouritism, Iran's preparations took a hit this week when versatile full-back Hashem Beikzadeh broke his hand in training on Wednesday, compounded by the fact fellow defender Pejman Montazeri is out of the tournament due to a calf injury.

Beikzadah also missed Iran's World Cup adventure with a muscle complaint and coach Carlos Queiroz admitted his latest injury has the potential to cause "big damage" to his side's continental campaign.

"It is unfortunate that Beikzadeh is injured again as this happened before the World Cup, and now just before the Asian Cup," Queiroz said.

"This is a big damage for us as with Pejman injured, we have two main players in our defensive line that are out.

"It was an accident. He was holding the shirt of another team-mate and accidently twisted his hand. It is very bad and we are unfortunate.”

Injury setbacks aside, Iran's squad is a formidable one with a total of six players plying their trade in Europe.

Long-serving captain Javad Nekounam brings class to the Iranian midfield, while striker Reza Ghoochannejhad is in prolific form, banging in seven goals so far this season for club side Al Kuwait.

Bahrain are led by veteran defender Mohamed Husain, and he and his fellow defenders will have to be at their best to keep out their opponents.

Striker Ismail Abdul-Latif has the potential to do damage to Iran's depleted backline, with the 28-year-old recently surpassing Husain Ali as Bahrain's leading all-time goalscorer with 34 goals.

Coach Marjan Eid is largely untested in international football, having only been handed the reins after the sacking of Adnan Hamad, following their Gulf Cup exit late last year.

In contrast, Queiroz is vastly experienced having managed Real Madrid, Portugal and famously been assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United over two spells.