Asia’s top-ranked team Iran will set out to end a four-decade Asian Cup drought when they take on Bahrain in Melbourne on Sunday.
Carlos Queiroz’s side have had a rocky build-up but they will expect to start Group B with victory against Bahrain, who are 59 places lower than them in the FIFA listings.
Iran have a proud Asian Cup history, boasting the most goals scored (112), the biggest win (8-0 against South Yemen in 1976) and the all-time top scorer (Ali Daei with 14) coming into the tournament.
Since winning three editions in a row from 1968 to 1976, Team Melli have found things tougher and they have not reached the semi-finals since the 2004 tournament in China.
But former Portugal and Real Madrid coach Queiroz has forged a disciplined unit and they will fancy their chances at a tournament which began with no clear favourite.
“We have big expectations and we’re ready to compete and to fight,” Queiroz told reporters. “We have big heart, big soul and big mind — and we will be ready for tomorrow.
“We will treat the Bahrain match like it is the Asian Cup final.”
In Canberra, Gulf Cup champions Qatar take on neighbours UAE in a battle between resource-rich states with sky-high footballing ambitions.
Qatar, who host the World Cup in 2022, will be running hot from their Gulf Cup triumph as they look to build on their quarterfinal showing on home soil in 2011.
The key man for the Qataris could be Khalfan Ibrahim, whose skills have seen him dubbed the “Maradona of Qatar”.
“He has played eight years for the national team and hasn’t won a major trophy because unfortunately he was injured for the Gulf Cup,” coach Djamal Belmadi said in Canberra.
“So, for sure, he has a lot of ambition personally and also he knows that now he is in a team that has won already.”