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Match against Bahrain in Riffa, slated for June 7, is likely to be pivotal as both teams chase the automatic qualifying spot for Group C.

Iran, Asia’s second highest-ranked side, is surprisingly found languishing in third after four outings – Team Melli is trailing leader Iraq and host Bahrain by five and three points respectively.

Despite having a game in hand, Iran’s new coach Dragan Skocic is all too aware that his side can’t afford to drop further points, FIFA.com reported.

The two sides’ historic rivalry adds another layer of intrigue to this showdown. Two decades back, Bahrain drew away and won at home to end Iran’s campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Four years later, the Iranians took revenge with four points against the Bahrainis as they booked passage to Germany 2006.

Iran will be looking to the goal-scoring form of Karim Ansarifard and Sardar Azmoun, while Bahrain boasts the talents of Czech-based striker Abdulla Yusuf Helal and Mahdi Al Humaidan – the latter earning the penalty which yielded the only goal in the pair’s first-leg meeting.