Mehdi Taremi (2nd-left) of Iran in action during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup group D preliminary round match between Iran and Yemen in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. - EPA
China’s Yu Dabao (left) scores the second goal against Kyrgyz Republic in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. - EPA
South Korea’s Hwang Ui-jo (2nd-right)in action against Stephan Palla (centre) of Philippines. - EPA

ABU DHABI: Mehdi Taremi scored twice as Iran crushed Yemen 5-0 in the war-torn country’s Asian Cup debut on Monday to fire an ominous warning to their title rivals.

Team Melli’s dominant performance in Abu Dhabi was in stark contrast to joint-favourites South Korea, who scraped past the Philippines while China profited from a goalkeeping howler to spark a comeback against plucky Kyrgyzstan.

Looking to end a 43-year title drought since last winning Asian football’s most coveted prize, Iran ruthlessly dispatched Group D minnows Yemen.

Iran took just 12 minutes to take the lead as Taremi finished clinically from close range after a shot from Sardar Azmoun was spilled by Yemen keeper Saud Alsowadi.

Iran’s Ashkan Dejagah celebrates goal against Yemen. - EPA

Captain Ashkan Dejagah doubled his side’s lead in the 23rd minute with a low free kick which cannoned in off the post and the hapless Alsowadi before Taremi powered home a bullet header moments later.

Sardar Azmoun tapped in a fourth goal seven minutes into the second half, by which time Iran were playing some champagne football, pulling off extravagant flicks and back-heels that left Yemen’s players chasing shadows.

Iran’s Sardar Azmoun scores the second goal against China. - EPA

When substitute Saman Ghoddos volleyed home Iran’s fifth from the edge of the box after 78 minutes the Yemen players looked physically shattered and only the woodwork prevented Mahdi Torabi adding a spectacular sixth in injury time.

A day after holders Australia were stunned 1-0 by Jordan, South Korea, still awaiting the arrival of Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, left it late before beating the Philippines by the same scoreline.

Fellow debutants Kyrgyzstan led China 1-0 at half-time but they were left to rue a costly error by goalkeeper Pavel Matiash, whose embarrassing own goal put the Chinese on course for a 2-1 win.

Matiash Pavel (left) goalkeeper of Kyrgyz Republic concedes a goal during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup group C preliminary round match between China and Kyrgyz Republic in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. - EPA

After hosts UAE were held by Bahrain, and Syria were kept to a goalless draw by Palestine, it provided more evidence that the gap has narrowed between Asian teams.

Separately, Thailand’s Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac paid the price for yet another shock result when he was given his marching orders following Sunday’s 4-1 defeat to India.

“Like all Thai football fans across the country, I am also disappointed with the result,” Thailand’s FA president Somyot Poompanmoung said, explaining the rapid dismissal.

“But as president of the football association, I cannot stand still with this problem.”

Kyrgyzstan looked capable of pulling off an almighty upset against China when Akhlidin Israilov smashed home the opening goal just before half-time in Al Ain.

China’s Yu Dabao (left) scores the second goal against Kyrgyz Republic in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. - EPA

But China profited from the howler of the tournament so far when Matiash, attempting to claw a defensive header over the bar, batted it over the line instead.

A Chinese winner looked inevitable and it was Yu who completed the turnaround, rounding Matiash and scoring from a tight angle 12 minutes from time.

Lippi, who is expected to leave his post at the end of the Asian Cup, said he was “enormously unhappy” at China’s first half performance, but proud of their revival.

“During the first half we weren’t playing well, and I thought if we keep playing like that we’re going to lose the match,” said the 2006 World Cup-winning coach.

“After the reaction from my players in the second half, I’m happy that we won the three points.”

South Korea's Hwang Ui-Jo celebrates scoring their first goal. - Reuters

Later in Dubai, prolific goal poacher Hwang Ui-jo snatched a second-half winner as South Korea beat Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Philippines, who impressed on their tournament debut.

The Koreans, looking to end 59 years of hurt after failing to win the title since 1960, soaked up considerable pressure in their opening Group C fixture before Hwang broke the deadlock after 67 minutes.

The Japan-based striker swivelled and smashed home from close range to settle his side’s nerves after Newcastle midfielder Ki Sung-yueng limped off with a suspected hamstring injury.

South Korea, who will be boosted by the arrival of Tottenham star Son after their first two games, joined China on three points at the top of the group.

The Koreans, runners-up to hosts Australia four years ago, were indebted to goalkeeper Kim Seung-Gyu, who plunged to his right to deny Javier Patino in the 54th minute.

But Hwang, whose tournament-high nine goals helped South Korea win last year’s Asian Games title, came to the rescue with a piece of magic in the box and was unlucky not to add further goals as the favourites finished strongly.--AFP

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