SHAFAQNA – Tournament favorite Iran downed a spirited Bahrain 2-0 and the United Arab Emirates trounced Qatar 4-1 in the opening Group C matches of the Asian Cup on Sunday.
Ehsan Hajsafi and Masoud Shojaei scored late in each half to give Iran the win over Bahrain in a contest that started at a frenetic pace with plenty of chances for each side.
Man Of The Match Hajsafi finally made the breakthrough for Iran in the second minute of first-half stoppage time when he gathered an attempted clearance from an Andranik Teymourian corner to fire the ball from just outside the area over the Bahrain defense and the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Sayed Mohamed Abbas.
“It was an unbelievable goal in any football stadium in the world,” said Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.
Iran doubled its lead in the 71st minute when Masoud collected a Teymourian cross and guided the ball past the near post.
Iran and the UAE now share the Group C lead with one win each.
Earlier, Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout scored two goals apiece as the UAE took advantage of a series of goalkeeping errors to beat Qatar 4-1 in the Group C opener in Canberra.
The Melbourne match was virtually a home game for the Iranians with most of the 17,700-strong crowd at the Rectangular Stadium made up of chanting Iran fans dressed in the team’s white, red and green.
“Thankfully tonight we performed very well and started our opening night with a victory,” Hajsafi said. “I am personally very glad because all the fans who were in the stadium are happy and that was a good start for us.”
The Bahrainis were determined not to be awed by their higher-ranked opponents and took advantage of every opportunity to threaten the Iran goal.
“Bahrain started the game better than us for the first 10 minutes until we were able to settle down our game,” Queiroz said. “It was necessary to play with full concentration and true fighting spirit to stop the movements of Bahrain.
“After the first ten minutes I think we controlled the game and we created the best opportunities in the game. We scored and I think we deserved to win,” the Portuguese-born coach added.
Iran had three goals called back for offside, while Reza Ghoochannejhad came close to scoring early in the second half when he forced a scrambling save from Abbas with a slow shot from inside the box toward the left corner of the goal.
Bahrain’s best chance of the second half came when Teymourian was called for tripping Faouzi Aaish, but Husain Baba Mohamed’s free kick cleared the wall only to be easily saved by Iran ‘keeper Alireza Haghighi.
The Iran team is very strong,” Bahrain coach Marjan Eid said. “I would like to thank my players. We lost three points, but my players did a good job and we have some chance in the second and third matches.”
In Canberra, Qatar goalkeeper Qasem Burhan was at least partially responsible for three goals in a blundering opener for the 2014 Gulf Cup champions.
“He made two mistakes but this is football,” said Qatar coach Djamel Belmadi. “In the previous competition, he was the best goalkeeper of the tournament. Today was not his day … but the defenders also did not help him.”
It was Qatar that took the lead midway through the first half. Majed Naser blocked an initial shot from Mohammed Muntari but Khalfan Ibrahim, positioned on the edge of the area, chested the ball down and lobbed it back beautifully over the head of the retreating UAE goalkeeper.
The UAE equalized nine minutes before the break when Qasem spilled a cross and, after a scramble in a crowded area, a defensive goal-line clearance from a Khalil header bounced off the striker’s chest and into the net.
Khalil’s free kick early in the second half deceived Qasem and bounced into the far corner of the Qatari goal.
Khamis Esmaeel’s well-struck free kick was parried by the Qatari goalkeeper into the path of Mabkhout, who scored into an empty net from close range. The striker added another goal in the 89th, ensuring the UAE scored four goals in an Asian Cup game for the first time.