Sydney: Iran are hoping a disrupted build-up will not dent their chances of ending an almost 40-year Asian Cup drought, as Carlos Queiroz`s men look to bounce back from World Cup disappointment.
The Portuguese coach says his side are the least prepared of all 16 teams, despite being the highest-ranked country at the tournament, after "Team Melli" struggled to find friendlies to play.
Iran travelled to South Africa for a near-two-week training camp where they were due to take on the hosts, Tanzania and Guatemala but ended up playing two games against local domestic opposition.
Things got worse when they left the training camp to head back to Iran for a scheduled friendly against Palestine, which was cancelled by the Palestinians at short notice.
"Our preparation was really not compatible with the team`s needs as we rank first in Asia but rank last in preparation," said Queiroz, according to Iran`s official news agency IRNA.
"It could have and should have been better," the 61-year-old added.
"We have suffered a big blow due to matches and training camps that were not co-ordinated."
The former Real Madrid boss said Palestine`s decision to scrap their December 28 match in Tehran had "caused great damage" to Iran`s preparations.
"It is a real pity and sorrowful," he added.
"The only reason we went back to Tehran was to play the friendly match with Palestine and try to improve the team`s preparedness," Queiroz said in comments widely reported in Iranian media.Some Iranian commentators suspected a conspiracy involving the territories` Arab allies aimed at disrupting the preparations of three-time winners Iran, who will play United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain in Group C.
Iran kick-off their bid for a record-equalling fourth title on January 11 against Bahrain in Melbourne.
The Iranians are currently Asia`s top-ranked side at 51 in FIFA`s standings but last won the Asian Cup in 1976.
Iran have struggled in recent years to fill the void left by the likes of Ali Karimi, Mehdi Mahdavikia and record goalscorer Ali Daei.
Queiroz tried out several youngsters in Iran`s 1-0 win over Iraq on Sunday -- their last warm-up match before the Asian Cup.
The ex-Portugal boss left out stars Javad Nekounam, Ashkan Dejagah, Reza Ghoochannejhad and Alireza Haghighi while giving Alireza Beiranvand, Soroush Rafiei and Ramin Rezaeian a run-out.
"I think the majority of these players are the future of the Iranian national team for the next four or five, six years for the national team. This is my belief," said Queiroz, who is confident of a strong showing Down Under.
"I trust my players and I trust my team spirit," he added.
Queiroz is under pressure to deliver after signing a new four-year deal following Iran`s exit at the group stages of last summer`s World Cup in Brazil.
They were close to qualifying for the second round after drawing 0-0 with Nigeria and narrowly losing to Argentina, but a 3-1 defeat to Bosnia and Herzegovina left them bottom of their group.