ABU DHABI • Iran coach Carlos Queiroz blasted his critics after his side crushed Yemen 5-0 on Monday to fire an ominous warning to their Asian Cup title rivals.
The former Real Madrid boss and Manchester United assistant manager praised his players for "suffocating" the Group D minnows in Abu Dhabi as they ruined the war-torn country's first Cup outing.
But Queiroz's mood turned sour when informed that former national coach Branko Ivankovic, now in charge of Iran's most popular club Persepolis and a feuding adversary, had been talking up Iraq's coach Srecko Katanec while goading him to beat their bitter rivals.
"Now we turn to home affairs," said the Portuguese, who has frequently clashed with Iranian football officials and media since taking the job in 2011.
"This is the gentleman who used to call Iranian football a circus," he added, putting the boot into the Croat Ivankovic.
"At the moment, 65 to 70 million people across Iran are praying for the national team, this intelligent man comes along to praise Iraq and its coach. Brilliant, genius!"
Iran, the joint favourites with South Korea, are looking to end a 43-year title drought since last winning Asian football's top prize.
They took just 12 minutes to go in front when Mehdi Taremi had a tap-in after goalkeeper Saoud Al-Sowadi spilled a shot. Captain Ashkan Dejagah doubled the lead on 23 minutes with a free kick that went in off the custodian after hitting the post and Taremi powered home a header moments later.
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At the moment, 65 to 70 million people across Iran are praying for the national team, this intelligent man comes along to praise Iraq and its coach. Brilliant, genius!
CARLOS QUEIROZ, Iran coach, taking aim at former coach Branko Ivankovic who has talked up Iraq's coach Srecko Katanec
Sardar Azmoun tapped in a fourth seven minutes into the second half when the goalkeeper failed to punch clear, by which time Iran were playing some champagne football, pulling off flicks and back-heels.
When substitute Saman Ghoddos volleyed home the fifth from the edge of the box after 78 minutes, the Yemen players who had been chasing shadows all game looked physically shattered.
"Fortunately for us, the first goal came early and, when you score early, it gives you the confidence and tranquillity to control the game," added Queiroz, who has been linked with the Colombia job.
"We didn't give Yemen time to breathe."
For Yemen, with players kidnapped by extremists, others going off to fight in the mountains or struggling to make ends meet driving taxis or working in supermarkets, just qualifying for the Cup was an astonishing achievement.
"I told the players at half-time to keep their heads up," said Yemen's Slovakian coach Jan Kocian. "We lost 5-0 and we have to live with the result, but we have two more games and we can play better."
Yesterday, 2007 champions and 2015 semi-finalists Iraq came from behind twice to beat Asean champions Vietnam 3-2 with a 90th-minute winner from Ali Adnan, having trailed 2-1 at the break.
In Group B, Tom Rogic is a doubt for champions Australia's game against Palestine on Friday after breaking a bone in his hand during the shock 1-0 defeat by Jordan in their opener last Sunday.
But the country's football federation has yet to confirm the extent of the injury after he saw a specialist on Monday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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