Goals from Ehsan Hajsafi and Masoud Shojaei gave Iran a largely worry-free 2-0 win over Bahrain in the first round of the 2015 Asian Cup on Sunday night.
Australia’s Melbourne Rectangular Stadium welcomed over 17,000 fans, many of them singing and cheering Iranian supporters, in what was one of the best-attended matches of the tournament thus far.
Both teams went on the attack early, with Team Melli in particular playing with the wind at their back thanks to the tremendous home-away-from-home support. Ashkan Dejagah had a strong chance denied in the 20th minute when his shot went straight towards the Bahranian goalkeeper.
Bahrain bent but did not break, however, occasionally mounting dangerous-looking attacks of their own but largely spending the first half preventing Iran from forming a consistent attack.
It was Hajsafi who broke the deadlock two minutes into stoppage time via a corner kick. After an insufficient Bahrain clearance, the 24 year old midfielder deftly trapped the ball outside the box before sending it looping over the mass of players and into the net.
The second half was far more subdued than the first until Bahrain striker Jacee John’s rocket forced the save of the match by Alireza Haghighi just before the hour mark.
The attempt seemed to spur an increased intensity to the affair, with Australian referee Ben Williams increasingly called upon to keep the peace between the two sides.
Iran finally broke the game open in the 71st minute and made it 2-0 when Shojaei met a low cross from the right corner with a seemingly improbable shot that appeared to go off his calf rather than his foot.
Bahrain were rarely able to crack a determined Iranian defense in the last 20 minutes of play, and rarely looked threatening in the final third despite creating several set pieces.
The victorious Team Melli will face Qatar, who lost 4-1 to a dominant UAE earlier in the day, on January 15 in Sydney.