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AFC Asian Cup 2019: Group D Preview - Iran, Iraq, Vietnam and Yemen

06:07 GMT+3 30/12/2018
Iran national team 2018
Goal takes a look at the Group D contenders of the 24-team event which gets underway on January 5...

With just over a week left for the 2019 AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup to get underway, the continent’s 24 best teams are set to descend in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The 17th edition of the continental competition sees the participating teams drawn into six groups of four teams each.

Here, Goal takes a look at Group D comprising of heavyweights Iran, Iraq, Vietnam and Yemen.


IRAN


Three-time champions Iran are making their 14th consecutive appearance in the competition. One of the traditional powerhouses of Asian football, Iran are the top-ranked (29) teams among all 24 participants and will be bidding to win their first continental title since 1976.

Led by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, Iran had a decent time in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia where they were eliminated in the group stages. Queiroz’s men managed to get the better of Morocco, held Portugal to a draw and narrowly lost out 0-1 to Spain in a tough group.

Since then, the team has registered wins in international friendlies over Uzbekistan, Bolivia and Trinidad and Tobago while being held to draws by Venezuela and Palestine.

Although Team Melli has had its fair share of recent controversies including a drop in funding, Iran will be glad to have start striker Sardar Azmoun lead the line once again after he was convinced to come back from the shock international retirement he had taken up post the World Cup.

Key players – Sardar Azmoun


IRAQ


2007 Asian Cup champions Iraq are making their ninth appearance in the competition and should pose the biggest challenge to Iran in Group D.

With an average age of just 24, Iraq are the second youngest team among the 24 participants. Slovenian coach Srecko Katanec has been at the helm of the team for four months now and under his tenure, Iraq have played a spate of international friendlies to prepare for the Asian Cup.

That included a 0-4 thrashing at the hands of Argentina but since then, Iraq have been looking in fine form with recent victories over China and Palestine.

The Iraq Football Association has had its fair share of turmoil over the past year but the young squad will be determined to go at least one better than their 2015 showing in the competition where they finished fourth.

Key players – Mohammed Gassid, Hussein Ali


VIETNAM


Making their fourth appearance in the competition, Vietnam are one of the emerging powerhouses of Asia with their rapid progress over the last few years.

South Korean coach Park Hang-seo has at his disposal the youngest squad in the tournament but that will not deter the Vietnamese from aiming high. Fresh off their second AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Suzuki Cup title where they beat Malaysia in a two-legged final, Vietnam have been in impressive form of late.

Their U23 squad made it all the way to the final for the recent AFC Championship and several of those players have made the cut for the senior squad.

With Park Hang-seo favouring a fluid style of football, the Vietnam squad will be among the dark horses in the competition and will be looking to better their best-ever Asian Cup finish of the quarter-finals (2007).

Key players - Nguyen Tien Linh, Nguyen Cong Phuong


YEMEN


The war-torn country has managed to secure their first-ever qualification to the Asian Cup and that in itself is a commendable achievement.

With a FIFA ranking of 135, Yemen are not expected to go far in the competition but under Slovakian coach Jan Kocian, they will surely be looking to spring a surprise or two.

It has not been the most ideal of preparations for Yemen ever since they attained their maiden qualification to the competition. The team was almost completely inactive post their 2-1 win over Nepal in the final qualifier before resuming their preparations in the month of November.

Since then, they have suffered losses in friendlies to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) while their scheduled fixtures against Tajikistan and Palestine were cancelled.

Key players – Abdulwasea Al-Matari, Ahmed Al-Sarori