The Islamic Republic of Iran comes into the tournament as the top-ranked Asian side, with a world ranking of 29.
Three-time Champions Iran will look to secure the title in Emirates after being shunted out in the quarter-finals of the three previous editions of the Championships. Featured in Group D along with rivals Iraq, Yemen and Vietnam, we can expect them to top the group and advance to the quarter-finals.
In the previous edition, Iran topped their group, winning all their three matches against Qatar, Emirates, and Bahrain without conceding a goal. However, they got knocked out from the Championship on penalties by Iraq after the game had ended 3-3 after extra-time. Sardar Azmoun and Reza Ghoochannejhad scored two goals in the tournament as Iran finished sixth overall.
Iran started their Asian Cup campaign in 1968 as hosts and clinched the title, overcoming Burma. In 13 appearances at the AFC Asian Cup, they have played 62 matches, winning 37 of their games, with 18 draws and seven losses. With a win% of 60 at the Asian Championships, they are hot favourites to win the title after a 43-year hiatus.
Iran had a great 2018 FIFA World Cup where they held Portugal to a 1-1 draw and lost narrowly to Spain. Their lone victory was against the Moroccans.
They have recorded only three losses in International matches this year, losing to Spain and Tunisia, while Turkey was the only lower ranked team to defeat Iran in an away encounter in Istanbul.
They drew against Palestine and will face Qatar in their final preparatory game before their Asian Cup campaign.
Twenty-five-year-old midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh who plays for Premier League team Brighton & Hove Albion would be the one to watch out for Iran. He became the first Asian player to become the top scorer in any major European league when he scored 21 goals for Alkmaar Zaanstreek during the 17–18 Eredivisie season. With his ability to outrun the defenders, he would present ample scoring opportunities for Iran down the wing.
Hailed as the Iranian Messi by the British Media, Sardar Azmoun, who plays for Rubin Kazan, quit Iran football at a tender age of 23 after his side's failure at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, following heavy criticism. He returned to the national team in October this year and is the fifth all-time scorer for Iran with 23 goals from 38 appearances.
Monday, 07 January 2019: Iran (29) vs Yemen (135) - Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi at 21:30 IST.
Saturday, 12 January 2019: Iran (29) vs Vietnam (100) - Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi at 16:30 IST.
Wednesday, 16 January 2019: Iran (29) vs Iraq (88) - Al-Maktoum Stadium, Dubai at 21:30 IST.
Iran leads the head-to-head challenge against Yemen, winning their two previous encounters comfortably. Though they face Vietnam for the first time, the South East Asian team would not be troubling the mighty Iranians.
Iraq remains the lone team which can pose a challenge after they claimed a narrow victory over Iran in a friendly in 2017. The vast experience of the Iranian team should see them through the knock-outs as group toppers.
Their likely semi-final opponents would be Australia or Japan, and the rest of the Asian teams may not create a daunting challenge to the Iranian contingent.
Average Age: 27 years.
International Caps: 733.
International Goals: 95.
Head Coach: Carlos Queiroz (Portugal)
Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Amir Abedzadeh (Marítimo), Payam Niazmand (Sepahan).
Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (Al-Shahania SC), Majid Hosseini (Trabzonspor), Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Vouria Ghafouri (Esteghlal), Mohammadhossein Kananizadegan (Machine Sazi), Ehsan Haji Safi (Tractor Sazi), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal).
Midfielders: Omid Ebrahimi (Qatar’s Al Ahli), Ashkan Dejagah (Tractor Sazi), Masoud Shojaei (Tractor Sazi) (Captain), Ahmad Nourollahi (Persepolis), Ahmad Nourollahi (Persepolis), Vahid Amiri (Trabzonspor), Saman Ghoddos (Amiens), Mehdi Torabi (Persepolis), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Brighton & Hove Albion).
Strikers: Karim Ansarifard (Nottingham Forest), Mehdi Taremi (Al Gharafa), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan).Published 29 Dec 2018, 01:15 IST