Sport 360 – ABU DHABI, Iran laid down a marker to claim a record-equalling fourth Asian Cup title with a 5-0 romp against debutants Yemen.
Three goals in 13 first-half minutes sent them on their way in Abu Dhabi, with Mehdi Taremi bagging a brace and Ashkan Dejagah making it 3-0. Sardar Azmoun and Saman Ghoddos sealed the win in the second half.
Here we take a look at three of the game’s talking points.
ARE WE LOOKING AT THE CHAMPIONS?
This was by far the best performance in the tournament so far. OK, so we’re only seven games in and a comfortable victory was only secured after minnows Yemen enjoyed an impressive start.
But once Iran found their feet they moved through the gears effortlessly. They of course have pedigree in this tournament, they are three-time winners (joint second most titles along with Saudi Arabia).
They are the highest-ranked Asian team in the FIFA standings and their position at 29this the highest they have ascended since 2001 and the heyday of Ali Daei.
Their standing is well earned and has been honed during eight years under the tutelage of former Real Madrid and Portugal head coach Carlos Queiroz. Under the 65-year-old they have risen 37 places from 66th and been steadily on the rise in recent years.
Since the 2014 World Cup Queiroz’s Iran have only tasted defeat six times in 54 games, triumphant on 37 occasions. They are battle-hardened and have matchwinners in abundance.
FROM GROUP OF DEATH TO DEVASTATING
This is the Iran we all wanted to see at the World Cup. They will curse the fact they found themselves pitted in the Group of Death alongside powerhouses Spain and Portugal, as well as African heavyweights Morocco, which left a star-studded, exciting team with a near impossible task of making the knockout stages.
They were forced to adopt a more workmanlike, defensive, disruptive approach in order to counteract the threats of Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa and Co, rather than showcase their attacking talent. Their only defeat was a 1-0 reversal at the hands of La Roja.
That attacking threat was abundantly clear in this swashbuckling victory. Livewire forwards Taremi and Azmoun (he of 26 goals in just 42 caps) ran riot, while former Fulham and Wolfsburg winger Dejagah, Mehdi Torabi and Vahid Amiri constantly probed.
They didn’t even have to summon Brighton bombshell Alireza Jahanbakhsh – the 25-year-old winger who laid waste to the Eredevisie last season with a league-leading 21 goals and joint third most assists (12) – from the bench. The opposition may have been tame, but this was far more like it.
YEMEN HOLD HEADS HIGH
At first glance it appears as if Iran’s 5-0 win was a mauling of the minnows. It was, but that does not tell the full story.
Yemen made their Asian Cup debut on Monday yet for an initial 10-minute period at Al Jazira’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, they looked like seasoned veterans, taking the game to more illustrious and established opponents. Had it not been for goalkeeper Saoud Al Sowadi’s foam fingers, Iran might have toiled much longer for an opening goal.
And while Iran eventually showed their undoubted class, Jan Kocian’s Yemen can hold their heads high.
Then North Yemen, they made their bow in world football at the 1965 Pan Arab Games in Egypt. Three years later Iran would embark on a 12-year reign of dominance across Asia as they won the first of three unprecedented straight Asian Cup titles.
The country has far more problems to prioritise than football at the moment. But against one of the favourites, they did not disgrace themselves.