Persianfootball.com – ABU DHABI, When Iran will kick off their 2019 Asian Cup campaign against Yemen in Abu Dhabi on Monday evening, there should be little doubt about the winner of the game.
However, both Iran coach Carlos Queiroz and Yemen boss Jan Kocian see that differently. While the Slovak rather shyly pointed out that anything is possible in football, Queiroz isn’t tired to repeat how difficult an opener always is.
This might be hard to believe, considering Asia’s number one in FIFA rankings will face a team that only won two out of 14 games in the past two years – 2-1 victories over Tajikistan and Nepal.
Iran on the other hand have dominated Asian football for the past few years and should be eager to crown that period with their first Asian Cup win since 1976, something reemerging Asian football powers like Japan, South Korea or Saudi Arabia will try to prevent.
Against Iran’s ambition speaks the injury situation. Midfield gem Saeid Ezatollahi of Reading will be missing the tournament due to injury. Also absent injured are Esteghlal midfieder Ali Karimi as well as European based trio Kaveh Rezaei (Brugge), Sadegh Moharrami (Zagreb) and Ali Gholizadeh (Charleroi). At least the latter at least has a theoretical chance to still make it in time, as he traveled to the UAE as stand-by player and could be added to the squad until 6 hours before kickoff.
This, however, is very unlikely, also considering the fact that with Alireza Jahanbakhsh if Brighton made the squad despite injury and is not expected to recover before the Iraq game, Iran’s third and final group game.
Also in absence of the named players, Queiroz is expected to line up his usual 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1, but in a slightly more offensive manner than usual, foreseeing an extremely defensive approach by Yemen.
In front of Alireza Beiranvand in goal, Morteza Pouraliganji and Majid Hosseini will build Iran’s first ever Asian Cup European based centerback duo, flanked by either Vouria Ghafouri or Ramin Rezaeian on the right and former Olympiacos player Ehsan Hajsafi on the left.
Omid Ebrahimi will overtake the central defensive midfield role from Ezatollahi and most likely will be supported by Trabzonspor’s Vahid Amiri on his left. The natural winger has developed to a formidable allrounder in the recent years and will add a big portion of fighting spirit to Iran’s game.
Question mark on starting playmaker
The big question is the third and usually more attacking and creative midfield position; although with captains Masoud Shojaei and Ashkan Dejagah, who both meanwhile play the football in Iran at Tractorsazi, available, Queiroz might opt for striker Karim Ansarifard, who already filled this role well during the world Cup. While not being the most gifted playmaker Iran has ever seen, the Nottingham Forest forward adds attacking power and additional aerial strength to the tallest Asian Cup squad. Smallest squads by the way are Iran’s group D opponents Yemen and Vietnam.
While Saman Ghoddos of Amiens also would be a good and recently tested option for the midfield, he is likely to fill in as starter for Jahanbakhsh on the right flank.
No doubts arise over Sardar Azmoun’s center forward starting role and the presence of Mehdi Taremi on the left. Both have shown to be in good shape recently and also scored one and two goals respectively in Iran’s two latest friendly matches, the 1-1 versus Palestine and the 2-1 win in Qatar.
With nothing less than a semfinal berth demanded by Queiroz and the title expected by the Iranian public and most bookmakers, a successful start to the Asian Cup, which will feature 24 teams for the first time in history, will be crucial.