Melbourne: Ehsan Hajsafi and Masoud Shojaei each scored volleyed goals to fire Iran to an emphatic 2-0 win in their Asian Cup opener against Bahrain in Melbourne on Sunday.
Utility player Hajsafi struck a brilliant, blistering volley from outside the area a minute into stoppage time of the first half.
Midfielder Masoud Shojaei netted a far less elegant shot in the 71st minute that nonetheless sealed the match for Team Melli in front of a boisterous crowd of Iranian fans at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
Bahrain, ranked 122nd in the world and outgunned by Iran`s playmakers, battled hard but will rue the loss of a gilt-edged chance early to midfielder Sayed Shubbar who headed a shot over the bar when unmarked in the area.
Hajsafi`s goal, however, may be among the finest of the tournament when it ends with the final on Jan. 31.
Controlling a rebound out of goal from a setpiece, the seasoned 24-year-old hammered the ball with his right foot into the top-right corner of the net, raising thunderous cheers from a 17,000 crowd dominated by Irani fans.
Shojaei`s shot was more fortunate. Outpositioning his marker to swing a right foot at a corner kick, the inelegant shot dribbled low and slow, but was enough to beat lunging keeper Sayed Mohamed Abbas.
Both sides had their chances early and it appeared the match would be locked at 0-0 at the half until Hajsafi`s wonder strike.
Shubbar ghosted into the area unmarked in the 16th minute to latch onto a superbly weighted ball from Sami Al Husaini but he made an absolute mess of the header, sending it soaring over the cross-bar.
The hot chance followed a tougher opportunity in the eighth minute by Nigeria-born striker Jaycee Okwunwanne who volleyed a poor attempt at a clearance but sent the shot wide of the left post.
Iran, the tournament`s top-ranked side, could have made Bahrain pay four minutes after Shubbar`s errant header when Shojaei crossed from the left to the dangerous Ashkan Dejagah in the area.
The attacking midfielder had only to beat the keeper but waited too long for his shot and it was well cut off by keeper Abbas.
A well-organised Bahrain defence frustrated Iran`s main attacking threats but conceded a free kick just outside the box in the 39th minute when Dejagah was brought down in a challenge.
Captain Javad Nekounam blasted the shot over the bar.
Coach Carlos Queiroz lamented in the leadup that Iran were the least prepared of all the sides in the tournament, but their controlled display may have fellow Group C rivals United Arab Emirates and Qatar concerned about what lies ahead.