Football: Iran, UAE turn on the style at Asian Cup

Football: Iran, UAE turn on the style at Asian Cup
Iran celebrates after scoring against Bahrain during their football match at the AFC Asian Cup in Melbourne on January 11, 2015.

SYDNEY - Ehsan Hajsafi's glorious volley fired Iran to victory over Bahrain and Omar Abdulrahman starred for UAE as the region's brightest stars turned on the style at the Asian Cup Sunday.

Hajsafi's swift control and scything strike from the corner of the box raised the roof at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium as Team Melli opened with a pulsating 2-0 win.

Earlier UAE's top-rated midfielder Oman Abdulrahman bewitched Gulf rivals Qatar in a 4-1 rout achieved through braces to both Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout in Canberra.

UAE went behind to "Qatari Maradona" Khalfan Ibrahim's sweetly executed volley before they roared back to put a huge hole in the campaign of the 2022 World Cup hosts.

The atmosphere in Melbourne was at fever pitch from the start and Iran almost opened the scoring when Ashkan Dejagah forced a smart stop from Sayed Abbas in the Bahrain goal.

Bahrain's Nigerian-born striker Jaycee Okwunwanne blazed just wide and Sayed Shubbar headed a golden opportunity over as Bahrain threatened to capitalise on Iran's sluggish start.

But with nearly the last kick of the first half, Hajsafi struck when he juggled a clearance from his left to his right boot and smashed it into the top corner.

Okwunwanne knocked Iran 'keeper Alireza Haghighi backwards with a ferocious drive before Masoud Shojaei popped up to steer home a mishit effort from a corner.

"The first game is always difficult. After 10 minutes we started to settle and control the game and the only thing is I believed we should have scored one more goal," said Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.

"We deserved one more goal. But to play against Bahrain is difficult."

He added: "The game dictates that the team that controls the game, the best team on the pitch, won today. So we start to move forward, rest, and I think our next game Qatar will be a decisive game for both teams."

The Gulf derby in Canberra lacked the frenzied atmosphere of Melbourne's 17,000-strong crowd but the UAE put on an exhibition fit for the big stage.

Goal of the game went to Qatar's Ibrahim, a former Asian player of the year, who controlled a rebound on his chest and acrobatically lob-volleyed for a memorable strike.

But Gulf Cup champions Qatar were profligate at the back and Khalil equalised from the rebound of his own header before the first half was done.

After half-time, man-of-the-match Khalil's free-kick from the left evaded everyone including Qatar goalkeeper Qasem Burhan as it crept into the goal to put UAE ahead.

Burhan then gifted Mabkhout his first goal, when he palmed the ball to the striker, before qualifying's top-scorer combined with Abdulrahman for his second.

"I have been with this group a long time, maybe around nine years," UAE coach Mahdi Ali said.

"More than 16 of them have worked with me since 2004 when I was an assistant coach and then since 2008 as head coach.

"We've grown together, we help each other a lot, we know each other, we understand each other and this is what I need to do my job."

On Monday, defending champions Japan launch their bid for a record-extending fifth title when they take on war-torn Palestine in a potential mismatch in Newcastle.

Iraq, surprise and popular winners in 2007, make their entrance against neighbours Jordan, now managed by former England international Ray Wilkins.

Hosts Australia were hit by the news that their captain Mile Jedinak will miss Tuesday's game with Oman after injuring his ankle in the tournament-opening 4-1 win over Kuwait.

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