April 16, 2024
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Sportsmole.co.uk – AL RAYYAN, Iran can take another step towards an eighth successive trip to the knockout stage of the Asian Cup when they face Hong Kong on Friday at Khalifa International Stadium.

The Dragons lost their opening encounter, 3-1, to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while Iran had little trouble dispatching Palestine, winning 4-1.

Match Preview:

A wait of over 50 years without an Asian Cup appearance officially ended for Hong Kong this past weekend, and the players put forth a valiant effort, with a pair of VAR penalties called against them in the defeat.

The lowest-ranked Asian side coming into this competition, 150th according to FIFA, were level with the UAE early into the second half before a lapse in concentration shortly after equalising.

Sunday was the first time a side from Hong Kong featured at the Asian Cup since 1968, while this team are now winless in their 11 matches played in this competition.

Jorn Andersen’s men though have shown plenty of fight in recent games, coming back from a pair of one-goal deficits to draw Turkmenistan in 2026 World Cup qualifying last year, while also claiming a famous 2-1 victory over China earlier this month, their first against them in 39 years.

While they have only been held off the scoresheet once in their last five matches (2-0 defeat versus Saudi Arabia), Hong Kong have not been quite so tidy defensively, conceding in each of their last seven encounters.

It has been over a decade since they suffered a defeat after drawing first blood, losing a friendly to Vietnam, 2-1 in June 2012.

One of the tournament favourites made a solid opening statement, with Iran scoring on four of their five targeted efforts this past weekend.

Since exiting the group stage of the 2022 World Cup with a 1-0 defeat versus the USA, the Iranians have yet to lose and have not been beaten by an Asian opponent since March of that same year (2-0 versus South Korea).

While Amir Ghalenoei can hardly have too many complaints about his side’s performance on matchday one, Iran had not conceded in eight successive Asian Cup group stage fixtures before Tamer Seyam put Palestine on the board late in the opening half on Sunday.

Their run of clean sheets may have ended, but their group stage dominance at the Asian Cup continued, with Team Melli winning 11 consecutive group fixtures in this competition, a streak that began in 2007.

A victory for Iran on Friday combined with a win or draw by the UAE would maintain their streak of knockout stage appearances, with this team being eliminated from the group phase only once since 1968 (1992).

It has been nearly 50 years since they suffered their one and only defeat versus Hong Kong, though that 1-0 loss in July 1974 was an unofficial match, while Iran have won their last six encounters against them.

Team News:

Sean Tse sat out of the opening match for Hong Kong because of a thigh problem, while Helio was also unavailable due to a muscle injury.

The all-time most-capped player in the history of this program, Yapp Hung Fai, is now just 11 appearances short of the century mark, while Ju Yingzhi and Wong Wai are just six away from 50.

Chan Siu Kwan notched his fourth career goal for the senior side on Sunday in his 19th appearance, the 1,000th goal in the history of this competition.

Iran were missing Ali Gholizadeh for their opener due to a knock, while Omid Ebrahimi is now just one appearance shy of 60, replacing Saman Ghoddos in the second half of their opening fixture.

Mehdi Torabi is three appearances away from 50, Reza Asadi is two short of double-digits, and captain Ehsan Hajsafi moved to within 11 caps of the all-time record held by Javad Nekounam.

Roma striker Sardar Azmoun notched his 50th goal for the national team this past weekend, putting him into a tie for second all-time for his country beside Karim Bagheri, but well back of the record held by Ali Daei (108), with the other Iranian goals on matchday one coming courtesy of Karim Ansarifard, Mehdi Ghayedi and Shojae Khalilzadeh.

Hong Kong possible starting lineup:
Fai; Nam, Gerbig, Hoi, Chan; Ming, Wai, Kwan; Camargo, Orr, Udebuluzor

Iran possible starting lineup:
Beiranvand; Hosseini, Kanaanizadegan, Khalilzadeh, Hajsafi; Cheshmi, Ebrahimi; Jahanbakhsh, Taremi, Ghayedi; Ansarifard

Prediction: Hong Kong 1 – 5 Iran

Hong Kong may feel a little hard done by in their opener, but on Friday, they could have their hands full against a determined Iranian side eager to book a spot in the knockout stage as quickly as possible.

Iran seem to have found their scoring touch in 2024, netting 11 times in just three matches, and we expect them to bury the many chances they are likely to have against a passive Hong Kong side.