Preview: Hong Kong vs. Iran – prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday’s World Cup Qualifying – Asia clash between Hong Kong and Iran, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

With their fates sealed in round two of Asian World Cup 2026 Qualifying, Hong Kong and Iran will square off at Hong Kong Stadium on Thursday in the penultimate round of group fixtures.

Having earned 10 points from their four games thus far, the visitors have guaranteed their progression to the third round of qualifying, while their hosts are unable to advance having only earned a single point.

Match preview

© Reuters

Hong Kong return to action under new management on Thursday with two games remaining in their unsuccessful World Cup Qualifying bid, having failed to progress towards a first appearance on the global stage past the second round.

The Dragons did begin the latest campaign on the front foot last October, meeting Bhutan in a two-legged first-round tie and progressing with a 4-2 aggregate win, thanks to a 4-0 victory on home turf, but they have failed to build on that start in the group, quickly dropping out of contention as they firstly suffered a 4-0 thrashing away at Iran in November.

A 2-2 draw with Turkmenistan followed to round of 2023, and after a difficult AFC Asian Cup campaign in which they lost all three group games, the Dragons endured a tough return to qualifying action under Jorn Andersen‘s tutelage, falling short in a pair of meetings with Uzbekistan as Eldor Shomurodov and Rustam Ashurmatov netted the goals in a 2-0 loss on home turf before they visited Tashkent in late March.

That away encounter did not end any better for Andersen’s team, as they fell out of reach of the top two with two games remaining following a 3-0 beating, as Shomurodov opened the scoring in the 20th minute and Khojimat Erkinov and Oston Urunov put the game out of sight with second-half goals.

Such a defeat would prove to be the final game of Andersen’s almost three-year stay with the national team, and now under the temporary stewardship of Wolfgang Luisser, Hong Kong will bid to bow out of qualifying on a positive note in their final two outings, starting with what would be an impressive scalp for their first group win on Thursday.

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They face a difficult test, though, with the visitors vying to seal top spot and continue their unbeaten record in a bid to advance towards a fourth consecutive World Cup appearance.

Having missed the first round of qualifying, Iran’s latest bid began with the reverse fixture at home to Hong Kong in November, and Team Melli prevailed in dominant fashion with Sardar Azmoun netting an early brace and Mehdi Taremi and Ramin Rezaeian adding late goals in a 4-0 triumph.

Then following a 2-2 draw with Uzbekistan and an AFC Asian Cup campaign in which they dropped out in the semi-finals, having again got the better of Hong Kong in the group stage, Amir Ghalenoei marked their return to World Cup qualifying with a pair of victories over Turkmenistan in March, firstly dishing out a 5-0 thrashing on home turf with Hossein Kanaani netting a brace alongside goals from Azmoun, Mohammad Mohebi and Omid Noorafkan.

In the following visit to Ashgabat, Team Melli guaranteed their top-two finish with a hard-fought 1-0 triumph, moving out of sight of their opponents and Thursday’s hosts as Mehdi Ghayedi netted the decisive goal on the stroke of half time.

Now leading the group on goal difference with their place in the next stage secured, Iran will bid to continue their impressive record and keep building momentum with another three-point haul to stay clear of second-placed Uzbekistan before their meeting in the final round of matches.

Hong Kong World Cup Qualifying – Asia form:

Hong Kong form (all competitions):

Iran World Cup Qualifying – Asia form:

Iran form (all competitions):

Team News

© Reuters

Hong Kong do have a relatively experienced squad at their disposal for Thursday’s game, although defenders Tsui Wang Kit and Li Ngai Hoi and midfielder Wong Wai are notable absentees after featuring in their recent training camp, while veterans Ju Yingzhi and Huang Yang were lost to retirement either side of the turn of the year.

Helio, who boasts 36 caps for his nation, will likely return to the centre of the defence alongside Oliver Gerbig, while captain Yapp Hung Fai is a mainstay between the sticks having made a record of 92 appearances for the Dragons.

Michael Udebuluzor, who plies his trade in Germany for third-tier FC Ingolstadt 04, should continue to lead the line alongside Poon Pui Hin, although Matt Orr will compete to start up top, while Tan Chun Lok is bound to continue in an advanced midfield role in support of the front two.

Amir Ghalenoei has a full-strength Iran squad to choose from on Thursday, and he should deploy the accomplished attacking pairing of Roma’s Sardar Azmoun and Porto star Mehdi Taremi, having notched up 52 ad 46 goals respectively for the national team.

He has decisions to make elsewhere, with Mehdi Ghayedi hoping to continue on the wing after moving onto seven international goals in 18 caps with the winner away at Turkmenistan last time out, while Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Mehdi Torabi, and Allahyar Sayyadmanesh will also compete to start in attacking spots.

Elsewhere, Saman Ghoddos, who departed Brentford following the Premier League season, will continue to play a key role in the midfield, while Milad Mohammadi and Hossein Kanaanizadegan should again partner up in the middle of the defence.

Hong Kong possible starting lineup:
Yapp; Sun, Helio, Gerbig, Yu; Chan, Juninho, Wu; Tan; Udebuluzor, Poon

Iran possible starting lineup:
Beiranvand; Khalilzadeh, Mohammadi, Kanaanizadegan, Hardani; Torabi, Ghoddos, Jahanbakhsh, Ghayedi; Azmoun, Taremi

We say: Hong Kong 0-3 Iran

Iran showed their superior quality in last year’s meeting with Hong Kong, and with their hosts unable to crack the top two in the final two games and the incentive of extending an unbeaten qualifying record, we back the visitors to pick up another resounding win on Thursday.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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