By Rohith Nair
AL RAYYAN, Qatar, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Iran beat Palestine 4-1 in their Asian Cup Group C opener on Sunday at the Education City Stadium where a show of solidarity by Iranian fans and players was quickly followed by a football masterclass from the three-times champions.
Goals from Karim Ansarifard, Shoja Khalilzadeh, Mehdi Ghayedi and Sardar Azmoun gave Iran all three points while Tamer Seyam scored a consolation for Palestine, who are still seeking their first win at the Asian Cup.
Huge cheers greeted the Palestine squad before their national anthem was played as the Iranian fans showed solidarity with their Middle Eastern counterparts, with some holding the Iran flag side-by-side with the Palestine colours.
A moment’s silence was also held before the game for the loss of lives in the Israel-Palestinian conflict which has raged on for 100 days and killed nearly 24,000 Palestinians according to health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza.
The latest conflict in a war that has rumbled on for seven decades began after the devastating Hamas attack on Oct. 7, in which Israel says about 1,200 people were killed and around 240 taken hostage.
“I thank all the fans that were in the stadium, the Iranian fans, the Qatari fans, the Arab fans, everyone who supported Palestine,” Palestine coach Makram Daboub told reporters.
“It was a lot of support for Palestine and the cause, we thank them and hope the support continues in the next game.”
But once the referee blew the whistle for kickoff, Iran got straight down to business and opened the scoring in the second minute when Saman Ghoddos played the ball to Ansarifard, who curled his shot past the keeper into the far corner.
Iran doubled their lead from a set piece with Ghoddos the provider yet again, his floating cross to the far post finding Khalilzadeh who smartly turned the ball into the net to make it 2-0 in the 12th minute.
Iran were technically and tactically superior to the Palestinians, who barely managed to get out of their own half at times, and they conceded a third before the break when Ghayedi found the bottom corner from a flowing move.
Palestine did not test Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand until the last minute of first-half stoppage time when they finally got on the board from a set piece where Seyam scored with a close range header.
But Iran shut down any hopes of a comeback after the break when substitute Azmoun made it 4-1 while VAR intervened late in the game to overturn a straight red card for Palestinian defender Mohammed Saleh who made a last-man tackle.
Although the Palestinians managed to mount a couple of promising attacks, Iran held firm to go top of the group while Palestine are bottom.
Despite notching up the biggest win of the tournament so far, Iran coach Amir Ghalenoei was not entirely impressed with his team’s performance.
“The first match is difficult, we’re happy with the result but not the quality of the performance. Scoring early made it easier for us,” he said.
“I’m satisfied with the players, but in general we expect more from them.”
Earlier in the first Group C game, the United Arab Emirates beat Hong Kong 3-1 thanks to penalties from Sultan Alamiri and Yahya Al-Ghassani while Zayed Sultan also got on the scoresheet. Chan Siu Kwan was Hong Kong’s lone goal scorer.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Al Rayyan, Qatar;Editing by Toby Davis and Christian Radnedge)