Three-time Asian champions Iran will open their campaign in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 with a Group D match against Yemen at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Iran, coached by Portuguese tactician Carlos Queiroz, have been plagued by injuries in the buildup to the tournament and will be without several key players including Brighton & Hove Albion forward Alireza Jahanbakhsh who has failed a fitness race for their opener.
Meanwhile, Yemen who are managed by Slovak coach Jan Kocian are tipped by many to be the whipping boys of Group D. But giving them hope will be the fact that the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates have already thrown quite a few surprises in the opening two days.
So, we take a look at five key facts before the two teams clash in Abu Dhabi later today.
1) Highest ranked team vs Lowest ranked team
The clash between Iran and Yemen will also be the meeting between Asian Cup 2019’s highest ranked team and its lowest ranked side.
According to the latest FIFA World Rankings, Iran are Asia’s best-ranked team with a world ranking of 29 while Yemen are 135th in the table making them the tournament’s lowest-ranked side.
Turkmenistan who are in the 127th position are the second lowest ranked side.
2) Iran’s Asian Cup pedigree
There is no doubt Iran have been one of the heavyweights of Asian football for one, but the fact that they are making their 14th consecutive appearance in the Asian Cup proves their consistency at the international level.
The run was started in 1968, the fourth edition of the tournament which they themselves hosted, and Team Melli have made it the longest run of participations by any team in the tournament.
3) Team Melli’s recent record in the tournament speaks for itself
Jordan will have a formidable task when they face Iran on Monday as the nation have lost only one of their last 18 games in the Asian Cup if you exclude penalty shoot-outs.
During that period, they won 11 of the matches while drawing six.
4) Yemen’s debut at the Asian Cup
Yemen are one of three teams that are making their Asian Cup debut this year along with Philippines and Kyrgyz Republic.
While Yemen face Iran, the two other teams will also make their bows on Monday as the Azkals face Korea Republic while Kyrgyzstan open against China PR.
Australia were the last team to reach the knockout stages of the competition on their first appearance (2007).
5) Iran’s 43-year-old trophy drought
While Iran have the record of making the most consecutive appearances in the league, they are not the most successful team in the competition.
In fact, they haven’t won the continental championship in 43 years after winning it thrice in a row in their first three Asian Cups between 1968 and 1976.
Since then, they have never reached the final in their subsequent 10 appearances, getting knocked out at the quarter-final stage in the last three editions.
Can Queiroz and his men end the drought at the Emirates?