Asian Cup: Group C preview
Group C is home to one of the tightest groups in the Asian Cup. Iran stand head and shoulders above the remaining three teams who would each fancy their chances of finishing in second place. Top spot is extremely important as the winner would likely miss a clash with tournament favourites Japan in the Quarter Finals.
Group C is home to the two top goal scorers in qualifying – Reza Ghoochannejhad of Iran and Ali Mabkhout of the UAE. This sets the scene for an exciting set of matches filled with attacking flair and hopefully a bag full of goals.
The tiny gulf country is an interesting story in world football after winning FIFA’s most improved team award in 2004. Since then they have been disappointing, being knocked out in the group stages of both the 2007 and 2011 Asian Cup. The current Bahrain squad is a tightknit group with most plying their trade in the local Bahraini league and with Marjan Eid, a Bahraini native, at the reins they will prove stout opposition for the UAE and Qatar in the fight for second position.
How they got here: Bahrain went undefeated to finish first in qualification with fellow Group C competitors Qatar their only competition. Defeating the Qataris in one game and drawing the other guaranteed them top spot.
Key match: Bahrain’s first game against group favourites Iran could set the tone for the rest of their tournament. If they can get a result then that may build the confidence to overcome the UAE and Qatar.
Predicted group finish: Fourth
The recently released FIFA World Rankings have seen Iran jump to 51st and leapfrog Japan to earn the title of best team in Asia. Iran has qualified for the World Cup four times in their history with their most recent appearance coming in last year’s Brazilian edition. The Iranians will be buoyed by their display at the tournament which saw them hold Argentina goalless until a 91st minute strike from Lionel Messi broke Iranian hearts.
Team Melli has an impressive history in the Asian Cup winning it on three consecutive occasions from 1968 to 1976. Since then they have had a volatile time at the tournament but with a confident team, and former Manchester United and Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiros in charge, this could be the year they reinstall themselves as an Asian powerhouse.
How they got here: Iran only dropped two points throughout qualification to finish undefeated and top of their group.
Key match: If Iran start well in their opening match against Bahrain they will be a very strong chance of progressing through the group undefeated.
Predicted group finish: First
There is no doubt that Qatar is an up and coming team in world football. After making it to the quarter finals of the 2011 Asian Cup and being named hosts of the 2022 World Cup they are going from strength to strength. This coupled with their impressive domestic league makes Qatar no push over. A group of passionate players under the tutelage of legendary Algerian footballer Djamel Belmadi will be pushing Bahrain and the UAE all the way for second spot.
How they got here: Qatar is the only team in Group C not to finish top of their group in qualifying. They only lost one game, to group competitors Bahrain, and were easy winners in their remaining fixtures.
Key match: Their final match against Bahrain could be do or die. If they can turn the tables on them and get revenge for their loss in qualification they could sneak through the group.
Predicted group finish: Second
UAE are traditionally a strong footballing country but since qualifying for the World Cup in 1990 they have been rather underwhelming and have failed to progress past the group stage of the Asian Cup since they were runners up in 1996. Since then the national team has had an unstable time going through a manager a year with the likes of Dick Advocaat and Roy Hodgson not making the cut. The tide may have finally turned for the better after UAE native Mahdi Ali took over and has the group bonding and playing well together. Ali has had the job for two years now and has already won the Gulf Cup of Nations, a sign that UAE could be returning to the form of their golden generation in the early 90’s.
How they got here: The UAE, like Iran, breezed through qualification dropping only two points on their way to top spot. Ali Mabkhout chipped in with five goals, the highest in qualification.
Key match: Iran looks locked in to top spot so if the UAE can pinch a win against the dangerous Qatar in the opening match of the group they will have a strong chance of progressing.
Predicted group finish: Third