Sports / Soccer

Asian Cup preview: Iran aims at 4th Asian title

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-01-06 10:10

BEIJING - Three-time champion Iran is looking forward to reclaiming the Asian Cup title since 1976.

Iran, ranked first in Asia, was drawn in Group C with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the January tournament in Australia.

Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz named the 23-man squad with just 13 players that featured in the 2014 World Cup finals, where Iran was eliminated at the end of the group stages last summer.

The former Real Madrid boss called up inexperienced players from the national league as some veterans were bothered with injuries. 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 only played two warm-up games after the World Cup.

"I think Qatar and the UAE are more well-prepared than us and they will be more likely to advance to the quarterfinal," said Queiroz.

Queiroz guided Iran to the 2011 Asian Cup where it lost to South Korea in injury time at the quarterfinal.

Captain Javad Nekounam will be the backbone in the midfield. The 34-year-old played in three previous Asian Cups, approaching 150 caps with 37 goals.

Former Fulham player Ashkan Dejagah is the core of attacking line and the 20-year-old striker Sardar Azmoun, reportedly a target for Arsenal, is also worth keeping an eye on.

Qatar will be the biggest threat to Iran in this group as it extended its unbeaten run to 10 matches after crushing Estonia 3-0 last Saturday.

The Gulf Cup winner has won seven of their past 10 matches including a 1-0 victory over Asian Cup host 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) favorites, 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 on January 15 which is considered as the crunch match for top spot in Group C.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, underdogs in the group, might spring surprises.

The United Arab Emirates enjoyed an unbeaten qualifying campaign and Bahrain, which surprisingly qualified for the semifinal in 2004 Asian Cup,got a 1-0 victory and a 0-0 draw against group rival Qatar during its road to Australia.

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