Iran sent a strong message to their Asian Cup rivals with a clinical 5-0 thumping of Yemen in Group D. While fellow favorites have stumbled in the opening fixtures, Team Melli have started the tournament with a bang.
As Asia's highest ranked FIFA nation, Iran have been tipped as one of the favorites to win the Asian Cup. And they lived up to that tag with aplomb against minnows Yemen.
Two goals from Mehdi Taremi spurred Team Melli to a dominant victory, in stark contrast to title rivals South Korea, who scraped past the Philippines, and Australia, who suffered a shock loss to Jordan on Sunday.
It's been 43 years since the proud nation won Asian football's most coveted prize and they took no prisoners in dispatching Group D opponents Yemen, who against the odds qualified for their first ever Asian Cup.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said the struggles of Iran's rivals had reminded his players that winning the tournament would not be easy.
"To be honest those results made the players understand the Asian Cup is not a cheesecake," he said.
"I have been telling the players that we need to focus on the first game and they took advantage of those lessons."
Iran took just 12 minutes to take the lead and they were 3-0 up heading into the break with two goals to Taremi and one to captain Ashkan Dejagah. Star striker Sardar Azmoun tapped in a fourth seven minutes into the second half, before substitute Saman Ghoddos rounded off the 5-0 victory with a long-range volley on 78 minutes.
South Korea break Filipino hearts
In the earlier afternoon fixture in Group C, many predicted a whitewash for South Korea in their opening match against the Philippines, who were making their tournament debut in the Asian Cup.
The Koreans are tipped to win the whole tournament under coach Paulo Bento with an exciting and cohesive team that is promising to end the nation's near 60-year wait for a third Asian Cup title.
And they certainly looked the part at times against their lowly opposition, combining slickly in possession and moving smartly to create space against a deep and determined Philippines defence.
But it took until the 67th minute for the heavyweights to forge a breakthrough via a classy passage of play. Veteran midfielder Lee Chung-yong slipped a clever ball into the path of Hwang Hee-chan, whose cutback from the byline allowed Hwang Ui-jo to smash the ball into the roof of the net.
It was the 26-year-old Hwang's fourth goal in his last six starts, giving South Korea a perfect, albeit hard-earned, start to mounting their title challenge.
The Azkals have bite
The Philippines can be proud of a valiant display where they not only frustrated their opponents but also threatened the Korean defence on a number of ocassions.
Fantastic defensive work from goalkeeper Michael Falksgaard and his backline (particularly Alvaro Silva) time and time again denied the Koreans, while the Azkals were themselves devastating on the counter through striker Javier Patino, who saw two great chances thwarted by South Korean keeper Kim Seung-kyu.
The "Azkals", or "Street Dogs", certainly showed fight and bite in their debut appearance, which will give them confidence heading into their next Group C match against China.