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01 December 2023

Iran floor Bahrain in Asian Cup thriller

Iran's Masoud Shojaei (left) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Bahrain during their football match at the AFC Asian Cup in Melbourne on January 11, 2015. (AFP)


Ehsan Hajsafi struck with a sumptuous volley in first-half stoppage time to propel Iran to a 2-0 victory over Bahrain in a tempestuous Asian Cup dust-up on Sunday.

Iran, seeking to end a 39-year wait for a fourth title, effectively sealed the points in their Group C opener when Masoud Shojaei added a second in the 71st minute to end Bahrain's brave resistance in Melbourne.

Asia's top-ranked side, Iran almost opened the scoring after 20 minutes when the dangerous Ashkan Dejagah forced a smart stop from Sayed Abbas in the Bahrain goal.

But Bahrain had already served notice that they were not about to simply roll over as their bulldozing Nigerian-born striker Jaycee Okwunwanne blazed just wide during the frenetic early skirmishes.

Sayed Shubbar then squandered a golden opportunity by heading over as Bahrain threatened to capitalise on a sluggish start from highly fancied Iran.

However, Hajsafi produced a moment of magic with almost the last kick of the first half, expertly trapping a looping clearance with his left foot before instantaneously smashing it past Abbas with the outside of his right boot from just outside the box.

Reza Ghoochannejhad appeared to be incorrectly flagged for offside for a second time when through on goal shortly after the interval, before Okwunwanne almost emulated Hajsafi with a ferocious drive that Iran goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi did brilliantly to keep out.

Tempers flared when Haghighi barged into Faouzi Aaish, Bahrain's waspish playermaker with a menacing-looking mohican who was a thorn in Iran's side the entire game.

But moments later Shojaei popped up to steer a right-foot shot just inside the post from another corner to trigger wild celebrations from a crowd of 17,000 - most noisily supporting Team Melli.

Iran's Asian Cup drought dates back to 1976, when they won the third of three successive titles.

Earlier, the United Arab Emirates laid down a marker by thrashing Qatar 4-1 to go top of the group on goal difference.