Persianfootball.com – ABU DHABI, Iran are clear favourites on paper, when they will take on Oman in the first round of the knockout stage on Sunday evening.
Iran had qualified as group D winners with a 7-0 goal difference, while Oman narrowly scraped through with a late 3-1 win over Turkmenistan, in the end having only that third injury time goal between them and elimination among the best ranked third-placed teams.
But the results only tell one part of the story. While Iran had souvereignly defeated Yemen and Vietnam, a much changed Iranian team had not been the better side in the goalless draw against Iraq on matchday 3.
Oman on the other hand were the better side against Uzbekistan and suffered from many bad referee calls against Japan, thus losing two matches unluckily before having a hard time against minnows Turkmenistan.
And indeed the fast Omanis, coached by former South Korea and Australia boss Pim Verbeek, are much more dangerous when not needing to make the play, something that is a certainty for Sunday.
Iran on the other hand will need to return to the dominant performance they had shown against Vietnam, a team similar in strenghth to Oman. Which 11 players will try to do so is extremely hard to predict.
Although Carlos Queiroz is likely to field pretty much his best squad, there still are plenty of reasons for the benching of almost any predicted starter – may it be fatigue, incompatibility with the opposition or a previously received yellow card. Only goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, center-back Morteza Pouraliganji and in-form center-forward Sardar Azmoun are almost certain starters.
Five Iranian players – Ramin Rezaeian, Ehsan Hajsafi, Vahid Amiri, Saman Ghoddos and Mehdi Taremi – already went into a referee’s book and would serve a one-match suspension after a further yellow before the semifinal, as all cards (but not suspensions) will be voided after the quarter finals.
Talking about the referee, Mexican Cesar Ramos has been selected as the official for the game, despite showing a controversial performance in group stage.
Should Iran get past Oman, they will either face China or Thailand in the next round. But Team Melli should be warned, only one out of the past four encounters against the small Persian Gulf state could be won – a 2-0 win in Tehran in the last World Cup qualifiers, thanks to a brace from Sardar Azmoun.
Iran – Oman
Asian Cup 2019, round of 16, Abu Dhabi
Possible Iranian lineup: Beiranvand – Ghafouri, Pouraliganji, Kanaani, Hajsafi – Ebrahimi – Dejagah, Amiri – Ghoddos, Taremi – Azmoun