Youthful Iran squad looking to win fourth Asian Cup title despite inexperience
Sydney, Jan 6 (IANS) Three-time champions Iran are looking forward to reclaiming the Asian Cup football title they last won in 1976 at the tournament starting here Jan 9. Iran, ranked first in Asia, were drawn in Group C with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, reports Xinhua.
Iran's Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz included only 13 players in the 23-man squad that featured in the 2014 World Cup finals, where Iran was eliminated at the end of the group stages last summer in Brazil.
The former Real Madrid boss called up inexperienced players from the national league owing to injuries to several veterans. Queiroz was confident these young talents will make a huge impact in Australia.
"Our young players were given a chance to play in an international match. They showed that they have a bright future in the match against Iraq," Queiroz said after Iran defeated Iraq 1-0 in a friendly last weekend.
However, Iran have featured in only two warm-up games after the World Cup and would the coach admitted that they would be underprepared.
"I think Qatar and the UAE are more well-prepared than us and they will be more likely to advance to the quarter-final," said Queiroz.
Queiroz guided Iran to the 2011 Asian Cup where it lost to South Korea in injury time at the quarter-finals. Captain Javad Nekounam will be the backbone in the midfield. The 34-year-old played in three previous Asian Cups, boasting of 37 goals from 150 caps. Former Fulham player Ashkan Dejagah is the core of the attacking line, and the 20-year-old striker Sardar Azmoun, reportedly a target for Arsenal, is also a dangerous customer.
Qatar will be the biggest threat to Iran in their group as it extended its unbeaten run to 10 matches after crushing Estonia 3-0 in a friendly match last Saturday. They have won seven of their past 10 matches including a 1-0 victory over Asian Cup hosts Australia in last October. Qatar has got through the group stage twice in their eight Asian Cup appearances, however, young Algerian coach Djamel Belmadi believed his team can go further this time.
"All the signs point to Japan, Australia and South Korea as (Asian Cup) favourites, but that doesn't mean we don't have a chance. I don't want to put limits on our ambitions," he said.
Qatar will face Iran in Sydney Jan 15 which is considered as the crunch match for top spot in Group C. But the UAE and Bahrain, underdogs in the group, might spring surprises. The UAE enjoyed an unbeaten qualifying campaign and Bahrain, which surprisingly qualified for the semi-final of the 2004 edition of the tournament, got a 1-0 victory and a 0-0 draw against group rival Qatar during its road to Australia.