Asian Cup Preview: Group C
As the tournament kicked off with an exciting come from behind victory for the host nation Australia so we must wrap up these previews (reviews) before the predictions are proved mightily out-dated and erroneous
Iran has the guile and talent to easily progress from the Asian Cup’s 12,000-kilometre journey group C with all of its competing nations coming from the Persian Gulf region. The clear favourite amongst them to win the group is Iran who will have expectations of reaching the semi-finals at the very least.
This summer’s World Cup performances showcased the grit and defensive proficiencies that are most associated with the AFC nation, although it was ultimately fruitless as they exited the tournament with just the one point. That point came in their dire 0-0 opener against Nigeria, which may well be easily forgotten but their performance in the last-minute defeat to a Messi wonder goal earned the much-maligned nation a lot of plaudits. And as the Asian Cup presents more affable opposition the Iranian’s mix of striking flair and defensive steel could see them triumph Down Under.
Even with World Cup starter defender Pejman Montazeri out injured, the team will still exude a well-drilled defence. Former Fulham winger Ashkan Dejagah and Andranik Teymourian are well-known ghosts of Premierships past, and their experience will be well-matched alongside some talented youngsters. Dutch club NEC’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Rubin Kazan’s Sardar Azmoun are two exciting talents that could lead Team Melli (National) to their first Asian Cup victory since 1976.
Google search the words ‘Qatar’ and ‘football’ and you will find tons and tons of news stories all relating to Qatar’s successful 2022 World Cup bid, which has been surrounded by allegations of foul-play, some of these may even come from the host nation of the 16th Asian Cup who were unsuccessful in their bid for the same prestigious tournament.
On the field the Gulf nation’s improvements have gone somewhat underreported; they have lost only once in 18 international fixtures in the past year, which includes their success in November’s Gulf Cup of Nations success and a friendly victory over Australia. Undoubted star player of the entirely domestic-based squad is Ibrahim Al Khalfan who has 19 international goals and was Asian Player of the Year in 2006. Qatar have the potential to be the surprise package in a group where 2nd place is very much up for grabs and if that would be achieved then it would be for only the third time in their history that the got beyond the group stage.
Bahrain are the 0-0 draw specialists of the Asian Cup having drawn by that score seven times in 2014. The lack of firepower could be their downfall, much may fall on Jaycee John ‘Ronaldo’ Okwunwanne to break the deadlock in their favour in any of these tight games that we will undoubtedly see in Group C.
The 2004 Asian Cup saw the nation’s best performance in the tournament, a surprise package fourth place finish, but even then they were only able to achieve one win in their six games.
The United Arab Emirates were coached by England’s current coach Roy Hodgson in what can only be described as an ill-fated spell between 2002-04. Hodgson deemed his players as “basically lazy”, but the UAE will hope to outwork their neighbouring rivals Qatar and Bahrain to clinch 2nd place in the group. Their creativity will most likely come from attacking winger Omar Abdulrahman, who once had a trial with Man City, and with
24-year-old Ali Mabkhout up front they have a striker with an international record of 22 goals in 32 caps.
Group C has an obvious favourite and nobody is expecting the Iranians to stumble at the first hurdle. Three victories for Team Melli and the second place will come down to the UAE and Qatar tussle on the opening day (4-1 UAE). Nothing expected of Bahrain.